Monday, September 26, 2011

Enjoy Your Freedom - Read a Banned Book!

The list looks like it's for a reading group with interesting, eclectic taste: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Actually these are some of the books that were challenged, restricted, removed, or banned during the past year. In early September, a school board in Republic, Missouri voted 6-0 to place Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler in a restricted part of the high school library and allow only parents access to the books. The challenge was brought by a college professor who said the books were among titles that "teach principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth."

In past years, many of what we consider to be classic American novels have been banned - - The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

In the early part of the 20th century, books were censored from being bought or published. Today, it more often means a book has been challenged in a library setting, usually a school library. We have had books challenged at the Austin Public Library and we have a committee to respond to such challenges. According to the American Library Association, most challenges to books are motivated by a desire to protect children from "inappropriate" sexual content or "offensive" language, but some books are said to be "unsuited to any age group."

This week, we honor our freedom of choice, speech and the press with Banned Books Week. This annual event celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It shows support for not only intellectual freedom, but also honors human beings' basic right to choose, to make individual decisions regarding what they read, which is not the case in many places. Iran's culture minister creates lists of harmful books to be banned. Titles ranging from the uncensored version of Plato's Symposium to Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night, and works by James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kurt Vonnegut and Paulo Coelho have been banned in recent years.

The 30th annual Banned Books Week, sponsored by the ALA, booksellers, and publishers is Sept. 24th to Oct. 1st. Many of APL's locations will have displays of banned books. The Harry Ransom Center's exhibit, Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored, which opened September 6 and goes through January 22, 2012, reveals how censorshop worked in America between WWI and WWII, letting writers, reformers, attorneys, and publishers speak for themselves, and illuminating the complex negotiations that occurred at the intersection of literature and "obscenity."

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