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Book Banning and the American Ideological Chasm

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor


 ImageIn honor of the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, which ran from September 286-October 3, CC2K's Book Editor Beth Woodward is revisiting this column from January.  And in honor of Beth's first full year as Book Editor, she is issuing a challenge to readers at the end of this column.

When John McCain selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee last year, one of the (admittedly many) controversies that followed was the allegation that, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin had banned several books from the public library due to “inappropriate content.”  A quick search of factcheck.org, a website devoted to de-bunking political myths and fallacies, reveals that Palin did not specifically ask the librarian to ban any books, but that she did ask the librarian, hypothetically, what she would do if she were asked to remove some books from the collection—which, naturally, leads you to wonder why someone would ask such a question “hypothetically” if they had no intention of doing so.  The librarian was aghast, and Palin apparently never pursued the issue any further.

This may seem like a moot point now.  But the fact that Palin could be nominated for a prominent national office despite this—and the fact that 46% of voters still chose the McCain/Palin ticket anyway—highlights a larger problem in our society: there are still people who believe our intellectual freedom should be restricted to content that they deem “appropriate.”  And often these challenges don’t just apply to children: frequently, they involve removing material from the shelves of public libraries.

Who determines what books are “inappropriate?”  And why should they be given authority over what other people’s children read?  Furthermore, why should anyone be able to determine what books adults have access to?  Isn’t it silly that anyone over the age of 18 should have to go to Amazon to find a book because it’s been banned from the local library?

The American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 2000-2007 shows that the Harry Potter series stands as the most frequently challenged material so far this century—no surprise there.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is #11 due to its racially charged content.  (Also not a surprise—I got some dirty looks on the Metro while I was reading this one for a class last year.)  Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird come in at 19 and 23, respectively.  And the old standby, Heather Has Two Mommies, scrapes by at #100. 

But from there, the list gets a little more surprising.  Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson’s acclaimed novel about a young boy whose best friend dies, pops up at #20.  (Death may be inevitable, but how dare we tell our children about it!)  Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a young adult novel about a twelve-year-old boy in a dystopian society where emotions have been virtually eliminated, follows at #21.  Young adult favorite Judy Blume appears on the list several times, with Blubber; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Tiger Eyes; Forever; and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.  And does anyone else find it ironic that Fahrenheit 451, a book about the devastating consequences of book banning, shows up at #72?

But what I find even more unsettling is that a book I would consider much more offensive—Adolph Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf—doesn’t make it onto the list anywhere.  In fact, I even checked several different lists, and Hitler’s tome fails to show up on any of them.  Thus, we have the inherent problem with trying to ban books: why are certain offensive books challenged while others are not?  And if we allow books to be removed from the library because someone considers them offensive, where does it stop?

I’m not saying that children should be allowed to read Valley of the Dolls in first grade or anything like that.  However, parents should determine what’s appropriate their children to read, not watchdog groups intent on preserving some moral standard that not everyone agrees with.  And as a legal adult, I should be able to go into the library and check out any book I want, regardless of content.

There are two types of people in America: the people who believe they should restrict access to materials based on religious, moral, or ethical grounds, and the people who believe that you cannot curtail intellectual freedom, even when you find the material personally offensive.  This division highlights an ideological conflict so fundamental that one cannot even conceive how the other side can sleep at night.

Quite frankly, I don’t know whether this chasm can ever be bridged.  But for better or worse, I have chosen my side, and I realize now that it’s one of the few things I really believe in.

 

And on another note:

October 6 marks my one-year anniversary as CC2K's Book Editor, and one year since I began writing this column.  In this year, I've told you a lot about my book reading habits.  I've told you why I hate chick-lit, how I think some classics are overrated, why I think audiobooks aren't "real" reading, and about my love of young adult fiction (over and over and over again). 

And all of this has led me to one conclusion: I am really self-involved!

As your Book Editor, I want to write about the books that you want to read about.  I also want to make sure that my literary palate, so to speak, is as wide and diverse as possible.  So here is my challenge to you, dear readers: tell me what books I should be reading and writing about.  And if you have a book or book-related topic you'd like to pontificate about in this column, let me know.   My goal is to make this section as interesting and diverse as possible, but I can't do that without your help.  So fire away!

Author: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

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