posted 2012-10-24 13:19:24

Banned Book Week

American Library Association celebrates challenged books

Alexandra Heidler

Associate Arts Editor

Once a year the American Library Association (ALA) celebrates the collec- tion of works and challenged books that have often been asked to leave the shelves for disputed descriptions of sexuality, violence, and other seemingly disagree- able topics. This year marked the 30th anniversary of Banned Book week. Across the nation various bookstores, libraries, and literary advocates shed some light on the legal and cultural events by providing lectures, gatherings, and open readings of books that have been challenged.

During Sept. 30-Oct. 6, there were several events and online campaigning to raise awareness of censorship. The ALA website encouraged a “virtual speak out,” where readers would record and upload their reading of a banned book online to connect readers and embrace digital telecommunication as a method of sharing challenged works.

The Way Station, a bar located in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, celebrated Banned Book Week on Oct. 1 with an event called “The Bookeasy.” The event was organized by Urban Librarians Unite. Participants were encouraged to read and discuss their favorite banned and censored books amongst drinks and dancing. Simon & Schuster hoisted a “Banned Book” web page to provide a place to discuss banned classics as well as briefly summary about the schools, libraries, and the legal history of several titles. On Oct. 4 the New York Public Library hosted a lecture by Mike Edison, author of How to Write a Porn Novel and previous Editor in Chief of High Times magazine. The lecture was “Books are Weapons in the War of Ideas” which provided a history of America’s censorship, laws regarding obscenity, and a few readings from banned authors such as Vonnegut and Mark Twain.
A number of children’s books have been under attack in recent years. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series or His Dark- Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman are harked for displaying anti-Christian values. And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book based off the true story of two male penguins who adopted an egg at Central Park’s Zoo, was challenged by parents for its homosexual tones. Staff committee and a parent at Shiloh, IL Elementary School library requested the book be moved to a shelf that required parental consent before check out, but in the end the superintendent of the district decided against the move. King and King by Linda De Hann, a translated Dutch book for children, was moved into the adult section from the children’s section at the Shelbyville-Shelby County, Indiana Public Library. Parents were upset that the plot involved a prince who grew up to find his true love, another prince.
Generally praised as one of the great American classiscs, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott. Fitzgerald was challenged by the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of “language and sexual referenc- es in the book”. Yet it’s cultural appraisal remains dominant after 2 film adaptions, and after 90 years of publication.

Book Banning can expunge complete chapters of our history and identity. Although fictionalized works often take the brunt of Banned Book week, there are plenty of historical and political works that don’t get published as well. Many should remember Arizona’s recent dismantling of their Mexican-American studies. The at the time superintendent Huppenthal threatened to revoke 10 per- cent of annual funding, about $14 million, if the course was not shut down. Giving in, the school then rounded up and collected the classroom textbooks, claimed the studies were “Anti-American,” a violation of Arizona’s HB 2281 which denies treating students as an ethnic group rather than individuals, and proceeded to lock up the supplies in warehouses.
Banned Book Week exists in order to understand and bring a shape to the future. The books accessible to the public should give its readers the chance to explore situations and ideas beyond our initial grasp. Though most challenged books are violent, sexual, and depraved by nature, this shedding of light on the darker themes of humanity can humble and teach valuable lessons.