Banned Books Week 2009: Ignorance is No Armor

Today is the start of Banned Books Week 2009, the 28th annual celebration of the freedom to choose what we read, as well as the freedom to select from a full array of possibilities.

Hundreds of books are challenged in schools and libraries in the United States each year. Here’s a great map of challenges from 2007-2009, although I’m sure it under-represents the nature of the problem, as most challenges are never reported. (Note the West Bend library controversy is marked on the map.)

According to the American Library Association, there were 513 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2008. Here are the ten most challenged titles:

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence

TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence

The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group

Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen
Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper
Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

The National Coalition Against Censorship has published a fantastic manifesto against the censoring of ideas. The text is pasted below the fold, and you can download the the full manifesto here.

To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you’re afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.
But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you’re afraid for America,
the red, white and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities
. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you’re afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all
.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear
.

Ignorance is no armor.

2 comments

  1. Not every word that is written deserves to be spread out. Just think of hate speech, which is out there and does harm the minds of young people. I’m sorry , but I just don’t share this sacralization of books, and certainly wouldn’t call that freedom.

  2. This romantic effusiveness from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) calls God “the father, who opens his arms to all” — an interesting attribution for them to make (on a number of levels). I will mention those that catch a Christian’s eye. Jesus was condemned in part because he called God his Father (John 5:18), and clearly the Fatherhood of God is a teaching originating with Jesus. But Jesus expressly taught that God was not the Father of everyone (John 8:42), and that not everyone would go to heaven (John 3:16-18). The disparity between the NCAC’s sentiment and the biblical record suggests the book lovers at the NCAC have not done their reading. Nor are they comfortable with capitalizing the word “father” when using it as a name of God. Maybe they think that to do so would be sexist? At least they capitalize “God”; but I dare say this usage will last only as long as pantheists and other pagans do not take offense at the NCAC’s usage.

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