Banned Books Week Meme

It’s that time o’ the year again, that joyous and irreverent turning up our ink-stained noses at the fools who think banning books is a good idea. Time for a meme, wouldn’t you say?

I got this handy list of the most frequently-challenged books 2000-2009 from the American Library Association’s website. I’ve highlighted the ones I’ve read in bold. Feel free to do the same, my darlings – and do treat yourself to some delicious literary contraband this week.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

That’s a pathetic showing, I admit. time to get readin’.

Friday Favorite Banned Books

In honor of Banned Books Week, let’s talk about some of our favorite banned books, shall we, my darlings?

I grabbed my short list from the Wikipedia List of Most Commonly Challenged Books in the U.S. If any of you have lists from other countries, let us know in comments. Censorship is a worldwide problem. It grows like a weed, and, like a weed, needs to be pulled up and stopped before it can take deep root.

1984 by George Orwell. This wasn’t a comfortable book. Reading it felt like being bludgeoned to death by blank-faced lackeys of a dictator, and I went through a few weeks of numb fog afterward, jumping at Newspeak shadows. It brought on a mild form of PTSD. But it was one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read, and rings all too true during this Rise of American Totalitarianism.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This book grabbed me by the shirt-front and yanked me in from the opening lines. “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.” I can see why it would be banned for strictly medical reasons: I nearly developed a hernia from laughing so hard. I’ve never read anything else that captured the insanity of war quite so well. Brilliant!

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yes. I admit it. I’m a Harry Potter addict. My friend Justin forced the first book on me. I’d had absolutely no intention of reading a bloody kid’s book about a boy wizard, for fuck’s sake. Immediately upon finishing it, though, I was digging my crappy old Tempo out of the snow at four in the morning and forcing the poor beast to navigate icy streets to our 24-hour Wal-Mart to buy as many of the rest as were available. I adore her way with words. I love her characters. I think the magic is awesome, and I find it simply delightful that she’s persuaded a plethora of kids to read books bigger than they are. Every life needs some magic. She delivers.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell. I read this as a kid, delightfully grossed out by the whole concept of eating worms. I took away a few lessons from it that have proved valuable throughout my life: never make a bet you wouldn’t mind losing, never be afraid to try something new as long as it’s properly cooked, and worms are a good source of protein.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I read this in a single night in college. I’d never been one much for social justice, activism, unions and all that, but after suffering vicariously through the lives of those brutalized characters, I became a firm believer in all of the above, together with a healthy dose of government regulation. This book raised my consciousness more than just about anything else I’d ever read to that date. And it very nearly turned me into a vegan. I can tell you this: I’ll never see a sausage the same way ever again.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Another college book. I did my book report on it for my Islamic Civilization class. Honestly, I don’t remember all that much of the book itself, aside from liking it. What was most important was the fact that this book had sparked such outrage that it almost got its author killed. It was my first true introduction to the extremes of religious intolerance. And it got me in to reading other writers on Islamic themes, whom I’ve loved. There are incredible writers emerging from the Muslim world, incredible writers in their past, and none of them deserve death for what they’ve penned. Salman Rushdie remains one of my heroes to this day.

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. Heart-wrenching. So many parts of this book have stayed with me, from that innocent night under the trees in the back yard when young love was blooming, only to be rudely interrupted by news that the main character’s father had been shot, to her mother breaking her toes by kicking a wall in a paroxym of grief, to singing “I Cain’t Say No” in the school play. “A tiger’s eye for my Tiger Eyes.” So many beautiful moments in this book. It’s given me a lot of strength throughout the years.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This was our sophomore lit required reading, and I can’t begin to describe the relief after having to suffer through The Oxbow Incident in freshman lit. (The insult added to injury was seeing them unpack boxes of Farenheit 451, the new freshman required reading, right after I’d gratefully abandoned that other pile of shit. Barstards!) I didn’t think I’d like this one any better, but a few pages in, I got hooked and finished it in a day. Scout and her father’s brave stand against racial injustice in the deep South captivated me. I found myself pulled into a world I’d never suspected existed. It taught me to overcome my fear of “otherness” – not that a lifetime living among African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and other sundry folk hadn’t taught me that skin color is no more important than hair color, but there are still plenty of other differences. I think this book is why I wasn’t afraid to plunge into other cultures and get to know people with very strange customs. And it made me passionate about fairness and justice.

All of these books enriched my life in some way. All of them showed me the world through different eyes, and made me question basic assumptions. They reinforced my passion for the written word. Books allow us to experience lives we haven’t led. They open us wide to the world. They can change our perspectives, and make us better human beings.

Which is probably why so many of them end up being challenged by those who would rather we keep our eyes and minds firmly closed.

Fuck that. I’m going to grab myself another banned book. Point me to your favorites and join me in some freedom, my darlings.

Adventures in Banned Books

Raise your hand if you think you’re looking at child porn.

Back when I worked at B. Dalton, I only saw my manager lose her composure with a customer once. Some fuckwit came up to the counter foaming at the mouth with an Anne Geddes book in his hand. He demanded we remove all copies from the shelves immediately. “Anne Geddes is child porn!” he proclaimed.

My manager gave him a dumbfounded look. He’d struck both of us speechless. And he continued to rant while we attempted to pick our jaws up off the cashwrap, pompously turning pages and pointing to damning pictures of nekkid bebbes lying in fields of roses and other such horrors.

Now, I’m no Anne Geddes fan. Nauseating cute has never been my forte. Babies, in my world, are sticky squalling bundles of misery best left to others to ooo and ahh over. People look at Anne Geddes and think, “Adorable!” I look at her photos and think, “I wonder how long it took for them to get the kid to stop screaming and look precious.” But the last damned thing most of us would think is that such images were pornographic.

My manager and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: Anyone who would see these photos as child pornography needs some serious counselling.

She tried sweet reason with the fuckwit. “These are cute babies, there’s nothing sexual about this, look, most of them are in little costumes.” To no avail. He continued demanding we remove the books. He was going to write to our corporate office, and the newspaper, and probably the attorney general, and let them all know we sold kiddie porn.

My manager lost it at last. Her face turned red. “We do not censor books,” she informed him in tones that would have flayed a normal individual alive. “There is nothing wrong with Anne Geddes. We’re not removing those books, and I want you out of this store immediately.”

He redoubled his rants. She finally exploded. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll call security and have you removed. Do not ever come back here.”

She marched him out the door, and returned to me fuming. “I can’t stand people who try to censor books,” she announced.

Well, neither can I. I even went so far as to buy some Anne Geddes kitsch for family members by way of protest.

We proudly wore our “I READ BANNED BOOKS” buttons at the store. We sold anything and everything, without fear or favor – except The Anarchist’s Cookbook, which either through corporate policy or law enforcement request wasn’t something we’d carry. That was the only time we failed free speech, and it wasn’t our choice. I’m proud of that record.

Book banning is a slippery slope. Ban one book for its content, and you’ve opened the door to a multitude of excuses. Everyone’s going to find something offensive, even in the least offensive of tomes. Best to draw the bright line at no censorship, and let the marketplace of ideas take over from there.

Otherwise, we won’t even have saccharine sweet books of baby pictures to read.

An Unhealthy Aversion to Sex and Fantasy: Welcome to Banned Books Week

I know, I know. The Palin Train Wreck is about to leave the station (and who can doubt that her upcoming debate with Sen. Joe Biden is going to be anything but an epic fail?), the bailout package is wandering the halls of Congress demanding braaaiiinss, and as John McCain watches his poll numbers sink, he gets more frantic by the hour, which leads to endless entertainment. Who has time for anything else?

But this is important, my darlings. It’s Banned Books Week, and with a vice presidential candidate who’s all about the book banning, it’s more important than ever that we don’t let the banners and burners get a leg up on us.

In reading through lists of challenged books over this past year, I’ve noticed an ongoing theme: sex and fantasy. The banners are of the opinion that the slightest description of sex, the merest hint that homosexuality isn’t eviiil, and the faintest whiff of witches or wizards are reasons to ban books. And they’re not limiting themselves to screaming blue murder over blue language at the local school library.


They’re going international:

On September 10, ABFFE and 18 groups issued a statement urging Congress to protect American writers and publishers from the growing threat posed by libel suits that are filed in foreign countries in an effort to intimidate them. The lawsuits are filed in countries that offer less protection for criticism than the United States and where the burden of proof rests with the defendant to prove the truth of any allegedly libelous statement. Defendants in these cases sometimes have to defend their books in countries where they have never been published. The practice of filing foreign libel cases against Americans has been denounced as “libel tourism.” The statement, which was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, calls for passage of the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 (S. 2977). Modeled on a New York law, S. 2977 provides that foreign libel judgments cannot be enforced in the United States if the speech is not actionable under U.S. law. S. 2977 also authorizes U.S. authors to countersue the foreign plaintiffs in a U.S. court for damages of up to three times the amount of the foreign judgment if the foreign plaintiff acted to suppress their speech. Click here to read the statement.

The burners are serious about censorship. We’re going to get serious right back at ’em. So, my darlings, grab your buttons and your favorite banned book, and make a statement: Your psychological hangups don’t dictate my reading material!