I Don't Understand This Business About Book Banning

Apparently, Banned Book Week is coming up soon. Here is a list of banned books.

Perhaps I’m just an un-enlightened cretin, but I don’t understand what the BFD is as far as banned books are concerned. We don’t live in an oppressive, facsist society where the government decides what the citizens can and can’t read (no, we really don’t, despite any hysterical rantings you may hear from certain people on the extreme left). Any book on that list I can either a) check out at my local public library; b) buy at Barnes & Noble.

All of the “banned” books on that list are “banned” by local school boards and/or libraries. I don’t see why local school boards or public libraries shouldn’t have a say over what goes on their shelves. There are some books that are simply not apropriate for children and don’t belong in an elementary school library. Furthermore, there are some books that do not belong in any library and thus are not put on the shelves. What am I missing?

I think we’d all agree that the dimestore porn novels that my dad used to read do not belong in an elementary school library. But if somebody writes a book with graphic sexual content and artistic merit (like the Alice series mentioned on that website), and a parent objects to its presence in their kid’s elementary school library, we cry “Book Banning!” As far as I’m concerned, the artistic merit of the book doesn’t negate that fact that there is sexual content in the book.

I also notice that a lot of the books on that list are banned for reasons that I consider utterly silly. Huck Finn for using the word “nigger”; Harry Potter for magic & wizardry; etc. However, at the end of the day, I still don’t see why there shouldn’t be any oversight over what goes on the shelves at a library, particlarly for a library at a school, but also for a public library. There will be omissions (and inclusions) that people are bound to disagree with, but them’s the breaks.

If your kid’s school library bans Harry Potter and you think he should read it, buy him a copy. Ditto for Alice, James & The Giant Peach, Huck Finn, or Vixen Cheerleaders in Cellblock D. If you’re concerned about the expense, there are used bookstores all over town. If you can’t find a copy of Harry Potter at your used bookstore, drop me a line and I’ll loan you mine. I’ll even send a dollar so you can pay the return postage.

I freely admit that I might be missing something here, but I don’t know what is is I’m missing. Please help me out here. And please try to be nice - although this is Great Debates, where passionate and spirited debate is the norm, I originally considered posting this thread in Café Society, because I want informed discussion and not emotion-driven histrionics (into which a lot of GD threads tend to dissolve).

HH: All of the “banned” books on that list are “banned” by local school boards and/or libraries.

Actually, the list you linked to is of the 100 most challenged books, that is, ones that individuals or groups have most often tried to get school boards or libraries to ban.

There are some books that are simply not apropriate for children and don’t belong in an elementary school library. Furthermore, there are some books that do not belong in any library and thus are not put on the shelves. What am I missing?

Which are the books found in school and children’s libraries that you think are not appropriate for children? Remember that banning attempts apply not only to books in school libraries but to those in public libraries for adults as well. According to your link,

I seriously doubt that, say Sex by Madonna or The New Joy of Gay Sex was ever placed in a school library. Do you think it’s okay to remove such books from adult readers at a public library just because a few library users object to them?

*If your kid’s school library bans Harry Potter and you think he should read it, buy him a copy. *

Some of us aren’t willing just to meekly surrender decisions about public resources to the most narrow-minded segment of the public. Would you apply the same policy to public resources other than libraries? For example, my elderly aunt doesn’t like driving over 50 mph on highways and doesn’t think it’s safe for other people to do it either. If other people want to drive faster, let them do it on private roads or racetracks. Should we change the speed limits for everybody to suit my aunt’s preferences?

Of course librarians make decisions about suitability and merit when selecting books. Being “anti-banning” doesn’t mean that any book belongs on any library shelf. It just means that when books have been selected as suitable and useful, and many people want to read them, they shouldn’t be taken away just because some people think they’re bad. The focus should be on inclusiveness rather than on excluding anything somebody might object to. (And IMHO that goes for excluding Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn for alleged racism as much as excluding Harry Potter for alleged satanism.)

Trying to make the whole issue go away by retreating to the private sector isn’t going to work, either. For one thing, not everyone has the luxury of buying their own copy of a controversial book, not even at secondhand bookstores. For another, bookstore owners are also subjected to pressure from censoring groups.

School and public libraries are supposed to represent (within reason: nobody’s arguing that free speech requires us to place Hot Vixen Cheerleaders Go Deep in the second-grade section of the school library) a broad cross-section of books that people might want to read, not just books that everybody considers safe and acceptable for everybody else to read. You are right that there are always going to be gray areas when it comes to identifying what books belong in that cross-section. But the point of “anti-banning” movements is that we shouldn’t just leave all those decisions up to the most easily offended people, but instead should actively support greater tolerance and inclusiveness.

It comes down to what you think is the appropriate role for a school board and library. I think both institutions should focus on expanding the minds of children, exposing them to new ideas, and promoting tolerance and understanding.

This is especially important for children who are being raised by imbecilic cretins, or for children who for whatever reason cannot walk down to Barnes & Noble and pick up the latest copy of God, are you there? It’s me Margaret. Or Harry Potter.

But when you look at which books are actually banned and/or challenged, you see a whole bunch of pinheads at work in the world.

Banning Harry Potter because it discusses witches and has a lack of Christian references? The Catcher in the Rye because it uses an expletive which the main character attempts to erase? Those are the works of small-minded fools who want to turn people into automatons.

I read most of the Alice books, and I don’t remember any “graphic sexual content”. Care to clue me in as to what you’re referring to? I recall Alice and her adolescent buddies talking about sex a bit, as adolescents are wont to do, but this wasn’t graphic and none of them seemed to have any experience beyond kissing. What’s more, when Alice had questions or was confused about something one of her friends said, she asked her father to explain it to her. (Alice’s mother is dead; she sometimes turns to her aunt and an adult female cousin for womanly advice.) Seems like behavior most good parents would want to encourage.

*If I had to buy every book I’d ever read, I’d have read a lot less books. My family never had that kind of money. That’s one reason why we have libraries. And one reason why we have public schools (with libraries) is so that parents don’t have to be solely responsible for their children’s education. Some parents choose to educate their children at home, but most do not have the time, money, or training to do this. Or to drive all over town buying books for a personal library of quality children’s literature.

School librarians don’t just throw books onto the shelves willy-nilly. They actually have to get a degree in library science (and usually a teaching licence as well), and they study which books they should stock. That’s their job. Most parents are happy to trust the qualified librarian at their child’s school select what reading material will be made available. Most probably would not be happy to have the potentially ignorant, deranged, or bigoted parents of their children’s classmates make these decisions.

If my (hypothetical) kid’s public school gave into pressure from Creationist parents and decided to ban all reference to evolution, I would of course do my best to explain about evolution to my kid at home. But I’d also do my best to see the school’s policy overturned.

I can see Slaughterhouse-Five because it shows the result of the firebombing of Dresden and that puts our military in a bad light. And To Kill a Mockingbird or anything by Toni Morrison because they are sympathetic to Negroes. :rolleyes: And Private Parts just because it’s by Howard Stern. And Flowers for Algernon because it’s depressing and The Catcher in the Rye because it’s crap. And maybe even Little Black Sambo though he’s not black but Indian. (another big :rolleyes: ) But Where’s Waldo? Was it too challenging for a kid so his mommy wants it banned? Or too challenging for mommy? :wally

“Actually, [the censors’s] purpose is to save themselves. In other words, they are men severely menaced by the slightest sexual provocation - men of an abnormal and often bizarre eroticism - men in constant dread that they will not be able to police themselves. To you or to me, normal men, it is difficult to understand their horror of the most banal indelicacy. The spectacle of a nude statue has no more effect on me than the spectacle of a beer-keg.”

-H.L. Mencken

Actually, as we’ve been discussing in [thread=276834]this thread[/thread], Where’s Waldo is on the list because of a topless bather in one of the pictures. I suppose somebody got excited by those two little ink dots for nipples in the tiny little ink drawing. Hmph.

Although I’ve heard authors react with outrage to book bans and challenges, most of us are amused by it. I’d love to have one of my books banned by a big town or school district. I could get huge amounts of free publicity, and people would buy the book just to see what the big deal was.

Attempts at ensorship frequently backfire. Take the case in San Francisco some years back when a woman decided that the public library shouldn’t have The Joy of Gay Sex. She checked out the book and “lost” it. They got another, and she did it again. Eventually, her library card was taken away, so she went to her friends and encouraged them to do what she had been doing. The library, noticing what was going on, had purchased more copies. The story was picked up on local radio programs. People began donating copies of the book (and cash!) to the library.

The woman wanted that book out of the library. What she succeeded in doing was generating massive publicity, making money for the author, making money for the library, making money for the publisher, and getting dozens of copies in the library to replace the one they started with.

Rousing success, no?

So let me get this straight: the ALA is concerned about books being banned from public lending libraries (as opposed to school libraries)???

I can see why those of us in a free society would get upset when a local hothead demands the removal of Harry Potter or whatever from the shelves of a library just because it offends them. However, I was more inclined to believe that this debate dealt with what goes on in school libraries. I was wrong and I humbly stand corrected.

Lamia - As for the Alice series: it was the ALA website that mentioned sexual content. I have no idea what’s in it because I had never heard of that book until this week.

HH: So let me get this straight: the ALA is concerned about books being banned from public lending libraries (as opposed to school libraries)???

Well, according to your link, they’re concerned about both.

I agree that it would have been helpful if they had included in their 100-book list an indication of what sort of institution the books were challenged in (school library vs. general section of public library, etc.).

If you were thinking that all those books (including Howard Stern’s Private Parts and A. N. Roquelaure’s pornographic S&M “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy) were in school libraries, I can see why you were feeling that maybe removing some of them wouldn’t be such a bad idea! :slight_smile: But I’m pretty sure that in fact, the “adult” books were challenged as reading matter for grownups in public libraries, not school libraries.

I think schools should focus on the three R’s, and that character development is the parents’ purview. Unfortunately, most parents drop the ball, so it’s often the teachers or no one.

Is there a breakdown on that website in the OP which shows what complaints were made against each particular book?

Ah. So because the ALA website mentions that the series was challenged/banned because some parents felt it had objectionable sexual content, you’re happy to refer to it as a series with “graphic sexual content”? And have no problem with it being taken from the shelves even though you personally know nothing of its content because “the artistic merit of the book doesn’t negate that fact that there is sexual content in the book”? And you’re still not clear on what the problem with book banning is? Sheesh.

By what merit is Brave New World on the list? Did someone consider those exclamations of “Oh, Ford!” to be blasphemous? :rolleyes:

And as far as I’m concerned, the fact that there’s sexual content in the book doesn’t negate its artistic merit.

Newsflash to easily offended parents: Sex is a part of human experience, and your kids are going to learn about it, and participate in it, at some point in their lives. A little knowledge will not take away their innocence or turn them into monsters.

It mentions birth control, and IIRC, sex. I guess those topics are entirely off limits to anyone under age 18.

Lamia, I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s in the Alice books, as I haven’t read them and don’t have an iron in this fire. Stop putting words in my mouth.

I don’t understand this business about book banning either, but the part I don’t understand is this: Why has the public been given any power to have books removed from libraries at all?

I can se no reason to let library users have any say in removing books from public libraries. None at all. A book should only be removed from a public library if it’s illegal (which won’t happen often), or to make room for other books. And in the latter case, the librarians should choose which books to remove without being micro managed by outsiders.

I can see reasons for wanting some kinds of books kept out of school libraries and children’s sections in public libraries. I suppose, in the case of incompetent or blatantly irresponsible librarians, that library users and/or their parents should have some way to appeal the inclusion of specific books. But the final desicion should be up to librarians or school management. I can see nothing good coming out of letting the most easily offended have any kind of influence over library contents.

Out of curiosity, which other countries besides USA have this situation?

hildea, I don’t think the public has any direct power to remove books from libraries. The “challenging” process referred to here is when individuals or groups make a request to a school board or a library that a certain book be removed from the collection (or from use in a class).

AFAIK it is still the institution that gets to make the actual decision about whether or not to remove the book.

Since libraries are supposed to take the wishes of the public into account in selecting books (for example, I’ve often submitted purchase requests for a particular book; if the library gets enough requests for the same book they’re very likely to go ahead and buy it), I don’t think that this process itself is the problem.

The problem IMHO is the censoring mentality that makes some people think that because they disapprove of a particular book, then the public or school library shouldn’t make it available to anybody. This is IMHO best countered just as the ALA is doing it: with a lot of publicity and anti-censorship rhetoric. (Backlash of the sort Wombat describes is also very effective.)

And yet, in this post, you say that the Alice books have graphic sexual content, and should therefore be banned:

I understand that you were only repeating the claims of the people trying to ban the books. This is an excellent example of why these people’s opinons should be ignored; they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

On a bit of a tangent: so what if the book has sexual content? What horrible thing is going to happen if a kid reads a book with a graphic sex scene?

For some odd reason people who pay taxes expect to have some input on how the state, local, and federal government mangages their resources.

I don’t see how you can have it both ways. If people can’t have any input on which books to exclude why should they have any input on which ones to include? School management, ultimately, rests with local authorites in the form of some sort of elected school board. In the United States local school districts have a lot of autonomy.


And drug use.