Banning Books is Alive and Well in America

The following are rulings on and objections to books in the last year.  Read on to see which books these are.

1. “The teacher must appropriately prepare students for parts of the book that may be considered provocative; limit the book to juniors and seniors; should a parent object to the book, board policy is currently in place that allows a student to be excused from the book assignment, and provides for an alternative assignment without penalty to the student.”

2. “This book has extremely inappropriate content for a high school media center collection. The book contained explicit homosexual and heterosexual situations, profanity, underage drinking and smoking, extreme moral shortcomings, child molesters, graphic pedophile situations, and total lack of negative consequences throughout the book.”

3. Book contains “economic fallacies”

4. Story has a “political agenda”

5. A child came across the phrase “oral sex”

6. The book includes sexual material and homosexual themes. . .the book will remain a part of English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level.

These quotes actually give me much hope.  They seem to say: books are powerful things. Perhaps the most powerful out there.

Ferlinghetti outside City Lights in 1958, shortly after putting HOWL back on the shelf.

Do we apply such standards to other forms of art and entertainment?  Think about it.  To television?  To movies?  To song lyrics?  Rarely.  But each and every year, concerned parents, community members, and others get up an arms over literature.  Before we continue, think of the last shoot-em-up movie you saw.  With that in mind,  re-read the quotes above, changing the word “book” to the word “film.”

Have I got you thinking?

It’s certainly got me thinking.  I’m writing to you as a writer, as a writing teacher, as a reader, as a student, and as a publisher.  What I think about books: at their best, and even at their worst, they teach us something large or small about what it means to be a human being in the world.  And really coming to know about that can be a scary business.  It might lead us to compassion, understanding, action.  In addition to entertaining and enlightening, it may spur us to re-evaluate our sense of morality, how we spend our money, what we do with our time, how we view human beings who are profoundly unlike us.  Dangerous indeed are these books!
UNSHELVED "Read Irresponsibly" by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes

In our state, at least three books have been reported as banned in the last several years, and countless others have been challenged.   Just a year or two ago this happened at the high school I attended.  The book was Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.

In my year of teaching at a local university, I had a student break down in tears and run out of my classroom.  “Why do we have to read such horrible stories?” he/she said just before he/she left.  The story was “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty.  But we’d also read so many others that ask difficult questions . . .The Things They Carried, Housekeeping, “Incarnations of Burned Children,” and “Hills Like While Elephants,” among many others.  Earlier he/she had asked “Why can’t we read any happy stories?”  (More on that some other time, perhaps.)

These things are all connected, to my mind—the dangers of interpretation, the way a work can move and change you, the many things these works whisper in our ears, “this world we live in may be an entirely different, more complex, sadder and more beautiful place than you might ever have imagined.”

UNSHELVED "Bland Books Week" by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes

I went home that night, after Student X ran away, and I looked for an easy story, a happy one, or at least an innocuous one.  I scoured my shelves and anthologies.  But I couldn’t find one.

What a relief!


And the banned books are:

1.  The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle

2. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

3. Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

4. “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

5. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary

6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank