Friday, September 25, 2009

Is Banned Books Week Neccessary?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Mitchell Muncy, it isn't.

Since 1982, Banned Books Week has been celebrated in the last week of September every year. The event “stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.” 
Many events around the country are planned this year in celebration, kicking off with the Banned Books Week Readout. Authors of some of the top ten challenged books for the past year will read from their works and discuss their experiences with censorship and their works being challenged.

According to the ALA, books are most often banned due to sexual content, offensive language, or inappropriateness for an age group. 

Classics that have been banned or challenged include The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, and Slaughterhouse Five. Some of last year's most challenged books are: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, about two male penguins who become adoptive parents (based on actual events at the Central Park Zoo in New York), His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, challenged because of political and religious viewpoints and violence, and Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, the basis for the TV show of the same name.

Muncy makes the point that these books are rarely successfully banned – most have simply been challenged. He pulls most of his quotes – and most of his ire – from a Manifesto recently adopted by Banned Books Week, which is actually a poem by Ellen Hopkins. She wrote it in response to having her book banned from a town in Idaho. An excerpt:
Torch every book.

Burn every page.

Char every word to ash.

Ideas are incombustible.

And therein lies your real fear.

Muncy writes, “For the ALA, what makes [those who challenge books] censors is that they spoke up at all: "True" patriots, presumably, would have kept quiet. Who, then, is afraid of discourse?”

On its website, the ALA makes it clear that no viewpoint should be censored – even that of those who would have books banned. However, just because one person disagrees with something expressed in a book or elsewhere does not mean that others should not have access to that information if they want it.

Most often, those who speak out against books are parents, looking out for the interests of their children. “What inflames the ALA," Muncy writes, "are attempts by parents to guide their children's education. One of the 'frequently asked questions' on the ALA's Web site is: 'Can't parents tell the librarian what material they don't think children should have?' The Manifesto's answer is clearly 'no.'”

It is understandable that parents want to shield their children from certain subject matter, but that is a choice only they can make for their children. In the Free Access to Libraries for Minors Statement from the ALA,
“Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children's—and only their children’s—access to library resources. Parents and guardians who do not want their children to have access to specific library services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children.”

In an article by the Guardian, Ellen Hopkins says, "My books speak to hard subject matter. Addiction. Cutting. Thoughts of suicide. Abuse. Sexual abuse. All these issues affect children. Look at the statistics. Closing your eyes won't make these things go away. Why not talk about them with your kids, to arm them with knowledge.”

Muncy implies that librarians are the real censors, since they make the decision about what goes on library shelves and what doesn't. Librarians try to make their decisions about which books to buy based on what will best serve their community's needs. Muncy ignores the fact that libraries are increasingly under tight budget restrictions. Even given larger budgets, we all know that it is impossible to please everyone. That's why there's Interlibrary Loan, which allows patrons access to books their local library doesn't have.

Banned Books Week brings attention to the importance of the first amendment and our freedom to read. If we were to lose our freedoms in the US, they would no likely be taken away in one fell swoop. They would disappear little by little, and we may not even notice until they are gone. This is why events like Banned Book Week are important – so that we don't ignore attempts to take away our freedoms, like the freedom to choose what we read and what ideas we have access to.

Here is a video of Ellen Hopkins reciting her Manifesto:

1 comment:

  1. There is another book similar to And Tango Makes Three called King and King that also has come under fire due to its content. In 2006 Robb and Robin Wirthlin and David and Tonia Parker filed a federal lawsuit against the school district of Estabrook Elementary School because the book deals with homosexual marriage and romance. The parents of the second graders believed that parental consent was needed because of the subject matter and that their civil rights were denied. However, the lawsuit was dismissed with the judge stating that "diversity is a hallmark of our nation".

    -Rachel Menovcik