“Banned Books Week” Needs More Than Celebration This Year

23 09 2007

SEPTEMBER 29-OCTOBER 6, 2007

“Free People Read Freely!”

 

Last year Snook the Blog sprang into being just in time for the silver anniversary observance of Banned Books Week.

At my house we love banned books, read them and champion them every chance we get. I’m not just talking Harry Potter and stuff that sets conservative churchfolks’ hair on fire. I mean book language that liberal pc-speak tries to censor by just changing a few words here and there too, in Mary Poppins and Huck Finn, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. (Wonder if that was supposed to be ironic?)

Considering what’s afoot in the real world as this year’s Banned Books Week approaches, for 2008 maybe we should worry about all public repression of expression — and invading privacy in its service — throughout schools and whole communities, in the news and on the campaign trail, not just in libraries and Bowdlerized textbooks.

Stage and screen, Don Imus on radio, Dan Rather and Swiftboat veterans on TV, the school play canceled just for having a vaguely offensive name like “Urinetown.”

“Playing to the Puritans” by Marc Acito
. . .three members of a local church objected to the high school’s fall production of the musical “Grease,” even though one of them hadn’t even seen it. In a response that would have made Joe McCarthy proud, Mark Enderle, the school superintendent, then proceeded to overturn the choice of “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller’s indictment of McCarthyism, as the spring play.

Instead, the students in Fulton [Missouri] just finished performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” that wholesome frolic about youthful rebellion, pagan magic and bestiality. As Dr. Enderle told Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher, her actors “shouldn’t do anything on stage that would get a kid in trouble if he did it in a classroom.”

. . . one thing that will certainly get a student into trouble in a Fulton classroom is not reading “The Crucible,” which is part of the 11th grade curriculum. I guess, like school prayer, reading “The Crucible” is something that has to be done silently. . .

Btw, Acito himself wrote a book some parents would forbid, perhaps censor. Favorite Daughter read it and loved it. The title is “How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater.”

And there’s all sorts of hardly noticed movie word-censoring, artistically offensive to me even done with the best of intentions.

And personal blogging. A self-identified “person of color” jumped on me for saying “who’s we, kemosabe” in fraught education debate online recently, and I got the feeling she’d wipe out the whole Lone Ranger-Tonto story if it were in her power.

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”— Noam Chomsky

Click here to see how you and yours can celebrate this important week. And check out these resources to oppose censorship all year.
Teens and young adults can get the straight scoop here. Then there’s a special page for kids too, bright and appealing, breaking it all down. (Four simple steps — Read. Complain. Organize. Get Help!)

One idea is putting together your own “read-out” of banned books. Nance, what would you think of doing that here at Snook, maybe collaborating with other evolved homeschoolers so inclined? I have no clue how we’d do it, but I bet we could and I bet it would be fun.

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”—Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas,” The One Un-American Act.” Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1 (Jan. 1953): p. 20.

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30 responses

23 09 2007
JJ

More on Bowdlerized textbooks:

Bowdlerized school texts and canned corporate curriculum honor neither reason nor faith, diversity nor standards, neither liberal nor conservative education and human values — indeed no coherent value at all.

Why are we championing this clumsy indoctrination as education, again? Anybody? Bueller?

LANGUAGE POLICE: Cut on the Bias
BY Diane Ravitch
Ms. Ravitch is author of “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn” (Knopf, 2003).

. . .I compiled a list of over 500 words that are banned by one or more publishers. Some are relatively obsolete, like “authoress” or “geezer,” but others are everyday words that one is likely to encounter in the newspaper, like “landlord,” “senior citizen,” “dogma,” “yacht” or “actress” (what would the late Katherine Hepburn have made of that?)
. . .When it comes to illustrations in textbooks, certain images–women cooking, men acting assertive, scenes of poverty, and old people walking with the aid of a cane or a walker–are likewise considered unacceptable. The specifications for photographs, I have learned, are exquisitely detailed. Men and boys must not be larger than women and girls. Asians must not appear as shorter than non-Asians. Women must wear bras . . . shoelaces must be solid black, brown, or white. People must never gesture with their fingers, nor should anyone be depicted eating with the left hand.

There are so many rules, one wonders how they manage to keep track of them . . .

23 09 2007
Alasandra

This is so timely.

A book has been pulled from my library shelves because a patron complained about it. The fate of the book will be decided September 25th (I am going to try to go to the meeting).

http://alasandra2003.blogspot.com/2007/09/best-seller-called-obscene.html

23 09 2007
JJ

Man!
OK, your book should be our project for the week! (What is it, Alasandra?)

23 09 2007
JJ

Found it in the news story: “Happy Endings: The Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilch,” by comedian Jim Norton. Never heard of the author or the book but if they can call this obscene and ban it, why wouldn’t Dave Barry and George Carlin be next in line?

p.s. and it is a REGIONAL public library, not anything to do with the kids-only moral argument, as in school libraries.

23 09 2007
JJ

Alasandra, consider the argument that it could be worse. 🙂

And the new tactic is apparently kidnapping the public’s book and refusing to return it! (Where’s the taser when you really need it??) See this and this.
The only semi-good news may be this:

Overall, the number of “challenged” books in 2006 jumped to 546, more than 30 percent higher than the previous year’s total, 405, although still low compared to the mid-1990s, when challenges topped 750.

“We’re still in … the mid-range in terms of how many challenges we get,” Judith Krug, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The Associated Press during a recent interview.

“And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, was published in 2005 and named by the ALA as one of the year’s best children’s books. But parents and educators have complained that “Tango Makes Three” advocates homosexuality, with challenges reported in Southwick, Mass., Shiloh, Ill., and elsewhere.

The ALA defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.” For every challenge listed, about four to five go unreported, according to the library association. Krug said 30 books were actually banned last year.

“Books aren’t banned nearly as much now as they used to be, because communities are much more active in fighting that,” Krug said about the bans, which can lead to books being removed from both school and public libraries. . .

25 09 2007
Banned Book Week « Sassymonkey Reads

[…] Cocking a Snook’s Banned Books Week Needs More Than Celebration This Year […]

25 09 2007
Alasandra

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Between not feeling well, housework and homeschooling my online time has been limited.

I am pleased to report that The Sun Herald had several pieces on it today.
http://alasandra2003.blogspot.com/2007/09/public-librarys-role-is-to-serve-entire.html
http://alasandra2003.blogspot.com/2007/09/no-book-should-be-expected-to-please.html

The National Coalition Against Censorship is involved.

Not sure if I will make it to the meeting tonight. I am not familiar with Pascagoula (so driving there after dark isn’t something I really want to do), also we are suppose to have bad weather (which also decreases my desire to drive).

Gotta run to the store. I’ll let you know the fate of the book ASAP.

26 09 2007
Alasandra

I am happy to report the book has been returned to circulation. I don’t think it is actually on the shelves, but if you request it you can check it out.

The bad news is they will no long buy books automatically off the New York Times Best Seller list. Each purchase will be carefully reviewed. Which probably means only the most non-offensive, bland books will be purchased thanks to our complaining Ocean Springs Patron.

http://alasandra2003.blogspot.com/2007/09/book-returns-to-circulation.html

26 09 2007
JJ

Maybe not. 🙂
Librarians worth their salt — who imo are among the most heroic, service-oriented and principled of professionals — won’t let “careful review” become a cynical euphemism for censorship.

26 09 2007
Alasandra

Unfortunately the library director leaves a lot to be desired. The individual branch managers fit you description though, so maybe there is HOPE.

26 09 2007
JJ

Alasandra, I HOPE you’re having as much fun with this as I am! 🙂 🙂

There is a Maine woman and an Alabama granny-girl combo using the eerily similar publicity stunt of kidnapping a book that shocks them and holding it hostage, supposedly so no one else can ever read it. I just left this comment at Alasandra’s in response to the Tuscaloosa County high school granny and girl :

LOL – Southern ladies used to be so much more clever with their public manners, to solve such problems with devastating yet impeccably polite little social gambits.

For example, if I were the shocked Granny, I might’ve returned the book immediately to the library desk, wrapped in my crocheted afghan (blushing if possible) to whisper I was sure some awful mistake had been made, probably due to my granddaughter’s innocence and total trust for the school — thank goodness I personally unpack and inspect her school things every day to keep our home tidy between the maid’s afternoons, because her virginal young eyes hadn’t yet opened up the “thing” to behold such unsuitable reading material. AS a daughter of the confederacy, I knew what I had to do to protect her, and took it upon myself to get it OUT of the house. I will stand here while you blot her name from the borrowing record for this book at once, and assure me of your discretion!

IN Alabama, that would be so much classier than branding the girl for the world to gawk at, as having been sullied by sexual exposure!

OTOH, if I were the southern school librarian in this story, I could tell the newspaper that I am delighted the whole family cherishes the book and can’t part with it! Why, poor Lysa must’ve been so starved for knowledge of the real world that she’s ready to endure this ridiculous charade to cover up her fascination with it, and keep the book for herself. But don’t be so ashamed darlin’ and make up stories hoping the town will still believe you’re a “nice” girl! It’s okay, really! And so I’ve decided to make her a present of it and replace it out of my own pocket for the school. And oh, wait’ll she hears this! I’ve had her schedule changed, to assign her to the check-out desk twice a week, where she’ll see EVERYTHING and help other girls learn more about sex!

And of course I am buying five more copies of this book for the library. Even better, my sorority alumnae chapter is adopting our school library, to send us another title for young women every month! We’ll put them all on a special shelf right out front, with a little gold plaque thanking Lysa for being so brave about her own budding sexuality . . .heck, we might even honor her at graduation and put a letter in her file so the bible colleges she’s applying to, will know what a worldly, feminist, independent-minded young woman she is. . .

26 09 2007
JJ

SO — of course I like my responses and think they would respect everyone’s position in this, and improve society and schools both, probably. But here’s the real letter the Yankee lady wrote to the library director:

Aug. 20 Memo From JoAnn Karkos To Rick Speer

Has anyone ever challenged you to be a defender of women and children? I hope this is not a pleading that you’ve heard for the first time. The truth is the contents of the book in question leads to a lot of misery, pain, lack of freedom, and often death. Consequences of the behaviors taught in the book, and there are many, obviously are not even taken into consideration. How responsible is that!!?

The greatest war against human civilization is immorality. History will look back on the past 30-50 years as a dark time in human civilization. I felt a great sense of sadness when I received you e-mail. I keep hoping there might be a remnant with a dutiful sense of responsibility towards the youth.

It is perfectly dishonorable that public libraries have no warning of the pornographic materials on the shelves in the children’s section. The book teaches the children how to have sex and is a predator’s dream come true. I grieve that educated adults want our children to adapt to behaviors that are subhuman. I grieve that educated adults do not protect the true meaning and gift of human sexuality. The body is a nuptial significance that is to be protected. I grieve that the likes of this book fails to teach our children that they have an incredible human potential and that their bodies are not to be reduced to play things, nor is sex to be reduced to a commonplace, depersonalized recreational contact sport.

It is a truly disordered concept of freedom when library policies adopt children’s capability to get pornographic material.

Enough! I will not be completing the questionnaire, and enclosed is the check for the cost of the book. Once again, as one human being to another, please rise up and become a defender of what is truth, what is goodness, and what is beautiful.

27 09 2007
Alasandra

I actually checked out the book, I haven’t had a chance to read it but I have skimmed through it. It doesn’t teach the kids ‘how’ to do anything (it’s not that graphic). And it certainly doesn’t glorify immoral behavior the whole book is about how the girl feels bad about herself. How she felt like a loser in Jr high because she didn’t have a boyfriend, so she used ‘oral sex’ to get one. How by providing ‘oral sex’ she became popular but that she now feels disconnected from herself and is unable to form ‘real, meaningful’ relationships.

And if the Granny really thinks that the issues in the book don’t apply to teens today, she is out of touch with reality. Or as my Granny would say she is off her rocker.

You know a lot of people today complain that kids & teens don’t read. Denying them the chance to read anything relevant to their lives or interesting is a sure way to make sure they never pick up a book. No wonder so many of today’s teens think books are boring.

29 09 2007
JJ

Should this science fair project be banned??
“Barbie Doll Electric Chair”

(electrifying cock of the snook to Denise at Fast Times for the tip, who here relates it to the student-tasering that’s the talk of our college towns)

1 10 2007
JJ

“God Bless America” was the “peace” song sung around a book-burning bonfire in the 1940s, reports a brand-new scholarly book, “Books On Trial: Witch Hunt In The Heartland And A Nation’s Response” by Wayne and Shirley Wiegand, an FSU information professor and his lawyer wife:

They reveal how state power–with support from local media and businesses–was used to trample individuals’ civil rights during an era in which citizens were gripped by fear of foreign subversion.

Richly detailed and colorfully told, Books on Trial is a sobering story of innocent people swept up in the hysteria of their times. It marks a fascinating and unnerving chapter in the history of Oklahoma and of the First Amendment.

(comment cross-posted at God Bless America: School Fight Song for Our TImes”)

1 10 2007
JJ

Harry Potter as a high-profile target:
For the Love of God, Bless Harry Potter and My Home Sweet Home”

I think Rowling’s genius is to see humans as carrying both hope and fear, both good and evil, to see us as magnificent, and animals, and facing new threats of extinction — to realize our ancient songs and stories need to be understood in progressively evolving ways, for anyone to win anything worth living or dying for. . .

How do you suppose real-world power of story is different between Berlin’s popular music for the stage and Rowling’s popular books for the age, to this letter-writer’s god? Deuteronomy is silent on that point, I believe.

1 10 2007
Banned Books 2007: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid (Again) « Cocking A Snook!

[…] more, see Banned Books Week Needs More Than Celebration This Year” […]

2 10 2007
Family and Politics: Ann Patchett’s New Book at Last! « Cocking A Snook!

[…] right now during Banned Books Week”, let’s applaud Ann Patchett as a strong southern woman, for passionately “defending her […]

2 10 2007
JJ

More from the Ann Patchett censorship interview, because it relates to the not-at-our-school fuss being made about Alasandra’s “sex” book:

In the face of provocative television news segments, an inflammatory full-page ad in The Greenville News, and an outpouring of letters from angry parents and alumni calling for the cancellation of the author’s scheduled appearance on Clemson’s campus, Patchett decided to speak to the Clemson class of ’06 anyway—even though that meant accepting protection from a bodyguard.

On stage in Littlejohn Coliseum, she spoke of the right to read and the importance of drawing one’s own conclusions. She made note of all the great works of literature that had, at one point or another, been similarly criticized as morally unsuitable, and she wondered aloud what purpose higher education served if not to acquaint oneself with the complex, real world:

“If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades, all represent such staggering acts of human depravity and perversion that I could see the virtue of never looking at them at all.”

The speech and visit won substantial support and applause, though not from all young members of the audience—some of whom took it as a public opportunity to question Patchett’s own morals to her face.

From her home in Nashville, Patchett talked about her experience at Clemson, her writing process, and her friendship with Lucy Grealy. We spoke by phone on May 30th:

And Daryl, please note this is Greenville SC! I thought they were getting citified and cosmopolitan up there — this is disapppointing. OTOH, at least they didn’t taser her and she’s not trying to taser them, so I guess with my supposedly liberal UF background, I shouldn’t talk!

31 12 2007
Marc Acito

I’m delighted that you enjoyed my book. It was my secret wish that it make it onto a banned book list. Perhaps the sequel (due out 4/15/08) will. Happy new year. Marc

31 12 2007
JJ

Hurray, a sequel! Favorite Daughter performs in musicals with Eric Hurst and Theatre A La Carte, will be 18 in a few months and actually blogged a take-off on your book, that you might get a kick out of (she hopes to enter FSU’s vaunted creative writing program in 2009):
“How Robert Mitchum Paid For School – Not By Working, That’s For Sure!”

27 06 2008
Ignorance Makes the N-Word Even Scarier Unspoken « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Citizen Censorship” in conjunction with this truly ignorant news story. Maybe follow up with this and author/ theatre geek Marc Acito’s “Playing to the Puritans.” I guess no […]

4 09 2008
Palin’s “Actual Responsibilities” as Madame Mayor « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Books Shuts Out Ideas” [Last year’s theme was “Free People Read Freely!”] September 27- October 4, […]

4 09 2008
Kiki

I knew I loved Ann Patchett for some reason! But in all seriousness, what is it about controversial issues that when they are spun in a fictional way they suddenly become taboo? Obviously there is a double standard in effect; IMO, this debate serves only to highlight the folly of those people instigating it. Honestly, I believe a book should be regarded for its merits in the literary sense, and also that perhaps the underlying issues related to the work which cause the controversial issues. If parents/teachers/officals etc. have real issues with a work, they should not simply ban the book in order to silence the issue, because, well, it won’t. These people should create a constructive dialogue on this book, trying to understand why these controversial issues arise. As you can tell, I love to talk, and, in my experience, talking is much more constructive than arbitrary action.

What’s more, some writers don’t create works just to make waves. Sometimes, writing is initiated and fostered simply to present issues which are central to a certain time period. If a writer set a book in current time with a protagonist who is homosexual and endures the criticism of society for his/her sexual orientation, this doesn’t necessary mean that the writer was seeking to point out the inherent problems within society’s treatment of homosexuals; it might have been only to give another side of the story, not criticize.

In short, banning books only heightens the ignorance of the people doing the banning. Not only does it highlight their ignorance, it also brings to light their lack of maturity in dealing with issues that make them uncomfortable.

4 09 2008
JJ

Hi Kiki — what’s worrying me about McCain-Palin and their party, unfortunately, is all the taboo REALITY!!

5 09 2008
Darrell Troth

In light of more truth about the person that is Sarah Palin – Quoted from here:
While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected
City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from
the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents
rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s
attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew
her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the
Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.” – voices should be raised during the dates listed.
Some may ask what those days encompass. That is “Read A Banned Book Week”. I am looking for ideas to make shirts to point out her values on censorship. I will also give away some to push this idea. I am going to run a contest for the design of the shirt, make 200 to give away plus one to the designer.

27 09 2009
“Ideas Are Incombustible”: Banned Books Week 2009 « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Banned Books Week, Be Afraid, Very Afraid! […]

8 09 2010
JJ

Banned Books Week 2010: Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same:

This year’s official theme features a robot unplugging his head from the Borg download, happily reading a real book instead. (No technology required, not even a Kindle.)

You can tell the robot is happy from its glowing eyes and smile of satisfaction. If you follow the sequence of robot art through the whole list of books known to have been challenged during the past year, you can see the free-to-read robot’s power of story play out — thinking for yourself and letting others do the same turns into real liberty (and eyes aglow from books) for all.

Who could be against that? Well, this parent for one: . . .

11 04 2011
JJ

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION Brainstorm
The Burning of the Dangerously Bookish
March 29, 2011, 11:13 am
By David Barash

Given the witch hunt against the evidently dangerous (because historically literate) Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin (my own dangerously intellectually independent doctoral alma mater), powered in part by the recent rise of the Tea Party (far more dangerous than the atheists among us, contra Messrs. Ruse and Berlinerblau), I feel moved to explore—albeit briefly—my own experience of being dangerous.

In 2001, an organization was founded by Lynn Cheney, wife of our then-beloved vice president, called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, ostensibly to promote “western values” and to “ safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically balanced, open-minded, high-quality education.” In fact, its intent was to further its own narrow right-wing agenda by intimidating liberal and left-leaning professors.

The ACTA (which ought to have been called the Aggressive Council for the Talibanization of America) issued a report titled “Defending Civilization: how our universities are failing America and what can be done about it,” listing 115 examples of statements by the professoriate indicating something less than complete support for the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism policies. Although it would have been easy enough to limit itself to that loony handful who would give bin Laden a free pass, the ACTA went after those like me who cautioned restraint and a bit of national introspection.

For example, I had objected to Bush’s statement that he would make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them, pointing out that this was exactly what the 9/11 perpetrators had done: perceiving the United States to be a terrorist nation, al Qaeda made no distinction between what they saw as U.S. policy and those who “harbor them,” namely the people.

A few year later, I was included among the targets in right-wing nut David Horowitz’s book, The Professors: The 101 most dangerous academics in America, because of my commitment to a dangerous triad of (1) antinuclear activism, (2) evolution, and (3) atheism. Although it is clear that the ACTA as well as Mr. Horowitz have long been committed to stifling dissent and the free play of any ideas with which they are uncomfortable, I think it is unlikely that they—or their current incarnations in Wisconsin and elsewhere—herald a return of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, or McCarthyism. But clearly, we must be vigilant.

In the meanwhile, I suggest humor and sarcasm rather than horror and sanctimony. Thus, Mr. Horowitz was especially irritated when I publicly thanked him for including me on his blacklist (I had been too young and inconsequential to make Nixon’s Enemies List), after which I received a number of e-mails from aggrieved friends and colleagues, complaining that they had been unfairly omitted.

I was reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “The Burning of the Books,” which I commend to y’all:

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned and on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power ,
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my books
Always reported the truth ? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you!
Burn me!

23 09 2011
Judy Blume: “Children are the real losers . . .” « Cocking A Snook!

[…] the blog started just in time for the 2006 celebration, which was the silver anniversary. I think the most fun we had discussing Banned Books Week probably was in 2007: . . . a Maine woman and an Alabama granny-girl combo using […]

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