Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nabokov Under Attack in Russia; Teenage Awkwardness Under Attack in Bakersfield

In Russia, there's trouble brewing for the works of Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, an article in the Globe and Mail states. "A senior Russian Orthodox official claimed Wednesday that novels by Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez justify pedophilia and said they should be banned in the nation's high schools."  While I do not want to get into a church vs state discussion, mostly because those against and those for will practically never be convinced to abandon their views, I do want to point out an interesting fact about the Orthodox Church that is working so hard to ban these books.  According to the article, "polls have shown that only about 5 per cent of Russians are observant believers."  Moreover,
Church and state are officially separate under the post-Soviet constitution, but Orthodox leaders seek a more muscular role for the church, which has served the state for much of its 1,000-year history. 
Some nonreligious Russians complain that the church has tailored its doctrine to suit the government, which has justified Russia's retreat from Western-style democracy by saying the country has a unique history and culture.
If so many Russians do not observe the Orthodox Church's doctrine and there is a separation of church and state in Russia, then how is it that this group thinks it has the right to decide what books are appropriate for everyone on the country?  I understand the Russia has a very different social and political structure than Canada or the USA, and I do not claim that I know how to solve the problem, but at the core, freedom to read should be the same anywhere.

People deserve the right to read books and those who don't agree with the content can choose not to read the literature.  Granted there are certain texts that go beyond common decency (the Pedophile's Guide to Love, for example), but these books are the exception to the rule and should be treated as such.  Not every book about incest or pedophilia needs to be banned, because in the majority of cases, these themes are usually treated carefully by authors, and are usually not showing them as a "good thing."

In other news, a book in Bakersfield, CA is under attack by a few parents who believe the book is much too erotic to be on the shelves of school or public libraries.  The book is What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones and she writes about her disappointment in these attacks in the LA Times this week:
"Our young people should not have to be exposed to your erotic thoughts and feelings," one irate parent from Iowa wrote. "Your book should be removed from all junior high media bookshelves. That's what we will attempt to do here in Algona. We strive as a community to keep high morals and values." 
And there were many other letters, including this one from a Texas woman: 
"I am a 6th grade teacher, and had the unfortunate experience this past week of having your book discovered by a student in my classroom library. On any given page, vulgarity and filth can be found!... Freedom of speech and press doesn't give anyone the right to corrupt young, impressionable minds! I feel sorry for your children. Please stop writing such filth!"
The part of the novel that is being attacked most is about a young girl who presses her newly grown breasts against a frosted window.  She is exploring her new body and feeling new sensations.  It may be unorthodox to some, but is this really enough to consider a book filth?  Sones writes about how she put such content in her novel because she wanted young girls to see that experiencing new sensations in a post-puberty body is normal and part of growing up.  Of course many parents seem to find this offensive, to which I say, "then don't read this book.  And don't push your boobs against frosted glass!"  Sones finishes up her article succinctly and with no real need for further explication, so here it is:
One mother of a 12-year-old daughter wrote me to crow about her success in having "What My Mother Doesn't Know" banned in Virginia. "I saw to it that the school took this book off the shelf, as well as all the others that you have written," she wrote. "I am not a book burner, but this book does not belong in middle school and maybe not even in high school!" 
I don't have a problem with her forbidding her daughter to read my book. But imposing her personal beliefs on every child at the school makes her no better than a book burner. As the playwright and journalist Clare Booth Luce once put it: "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Books in the Huffington Post

Check out these words of wisdom and opinion from Molly Raphael, current President of the American Library Association.  She brings together serious topics on censorship and the restriction of access to books and looks at the differences and similarities between the two.  Well worth the read and definitely in the spirit of Banned Books Week!
[F]ar more often than we may realize, individuals and groups have sought to restrict access to library books they believed were objectionable on religious, moral, or political grounds, thereby restricting the rights of every reader in their community. For example, this summer the Republic (Mo.) school board voted to remove Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler'sTwenty Boy Summer from the school library as a result of a complaint that the book "teaches principles contrary to Biblical morality and truth." More than 150 students and their families have lost access to those books; while a local and national outcry caused the school board to return the books to the library, the books are now on a locked shelf and unavailable to students absent the consent of a parent or guardian. 
It's become popular in the last few years to argue that this kind of book censorship is no big deal. Isn't the decision to ban the books just a way of helping parents protect their children? What does it matter if a book is banned from a school or library if kids can obtain books from online retailers? 
Such censorship is, in fact, a very big deal. Such censorship matters to those who no longer can exercise the right to choose what they read for themselves. It matters to those in the community that cannot afford books or a computer, and for whom the library is a lifeline to the Internet and the printed word. And it matters to all of us who care about protecting our rights and our freedoms and who believe that no one should be able to forbid others in their community from reading a book because that book doesn't comport with their views, opinions, or morality.
Click here to read the rest of this Huffington Post article.  It's worth taking the time to check out!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Two [More] Titles from "Books Banned and Challenged, 2010-2011"

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Doubleday)
Mark Haddon

Removed from the Lake Fenton, Mich. summer reading program (2010) after parents complained about its “foul language.” The book is about an autistic child who investigates the death of a neighborhood dog. It was a joint winner of the 2004 Boeke Prize and won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year award. 
Source: Sept. 2010, p. 200.

The Dead Man in Indian Creek (Clarion Books; Sandpiper)
Mary Downing Hahn

Challenged at the Salem-Keizer School District, Oreg. elementary schools (2010) because of the drugs and drug smuggling activities in the book. The book was previously challenged in 1994 in the same school district because of graphic violence, examples of inappropriate parenting, and because it was too frightening for elementary students. The book has won awards from the International Reading Association, the Children’s Book Council, and the American Library Association. 
Source: May 2010, pp. 105–6.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Differing Perspectives on Banned Books Week 2011

"Banned Books Week is just hype." USA Today
The problem: None of this is remotely true. Banned Books Week is an exercise in propaganda. For starters, as a legal matter no book in America is banned, period, full stop (not counting, I suppose, some hard-core illegal child porn or some such out there). Any citizen can go to a bookstore or and buy any book legally in print — or out of print for that matter.  
When the American Library Association talks about censorship of books, it invariably refers to "banned or challenged" books. A "banned" book is a book that has been removed from a public library or school's shelves or reading lists due to pressure from someone who isn't a librarian or teacher. In practice, this means pretty much any book that's pulled off the shelves of a library can be counted as "banned." Even so, that's very rare, which is why the ALA lump "banned" and "challenged" together. Moreover, it's crazy. If the mere absence of a book counts as a "ban," then 99.99% of books have been banned somewhere.... 
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article] 

"'Banned Books Week' worth the hype." Peoria Journal Star
I winced this morning when I read Jonah Goldberg’s column about Banned Books Week, which takes place this year Sept. 24-Oct. 1. 
Titled “Banned Books Week Overhyped Propaganda,” the opinion piece pokes fun at the annual effort by the American Library Association to throw a spotlight on attempts to force school and public libraries to remove books from the shelves that some people consider controversial. 
For Goldberg, this effort is a bunch of lefty nonsense. There really is no danger of books being banned in the United States, he writes. This is just an effort to bully parents who are concerned about what books their kids may have access to....
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article]

"Banned Books Week celebrates freedom to read." USA Today
Librarians have always supported a parent's right to decide what his or her family should read. But in our democracy, other families should be able to make different choices for their own families, not dictated by a particular political or religious viewpoint. 
We need to remember that when one book is removed, this act of censorship affects more than one person or family. It affects the entire community. We need to remember that public libraries serve everyone, including those who are too young or too poor to buy their own books or own a computer. 
Contrary to commentary writer Jonah Goldberg's assertion, librarians and library users celebrate Banned Books Week as a testament to the strength of our freedom in the United States. We celebrate the freedom to read because we all know that we are so fortunate to live in a country that protects our freedom to choose what we want to read. If you doubt this, just ask anyone from a totalitarian society. That is why we draw attention to acts of censorship that chill the freedom to read.... 
[Follow this link to for the rest of the article]

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Two Titles from "Books Banned and Challenged, 2010-2011"

Shooting Star (Atheneum)

Retained in the Broken Arrow, Okla. Sequoyah Middle School library (2010) despite a parent’s concern about several swear words in the text.  The book is about a high school football player who, after becoming discouraged about his size, starts using steroids to bulk up, resulting in negative effects on his life and personality.
Source: Nov. 2010, p. 257.

Push (Vintage)

Challenged on an extracurricular reading list in the Horry County, S.C. school library (2011). The 1996 novel is based on the story of Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old, who grows up in poverty. Precious is raped by her father, battered by her mother, and dismissed by social workers. The story follows Precious, pregnant with a second child by her father, through her journey of learning how to read and be on her own. The novel was made into a critically acclaimed movie, Precious, in 2009, which received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, for the 82nd Academy Awards and Sundance Film Festival praise.
Source: May 2011, pp. 94–95.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Secret Locker Library

This is a fantastic idea for those students who won't let ridiculous policies stand in the way of intellectual freedom.  A recent article showcased the awesome work of a student (going by the name Nekochan) in a Catholic school who began running a banned books library out of her locker and the empty one next to it.  She felt that the books being banned from classrooms and the library was a bit ridiculous and so she started lending the titles on the banned books list to other students.
Nekochan wrote about the recent book ban: “I was absolutely appalled, because a huge number of the books were classics and others that are my favorites. One of my personal favorites, The Catcher in the Rye, was on the list, so I decided to bring it to school to see if I would really get in trouble. Well… I did but not too much. Then (surprise!) a boy in my English class asked if he could borrow the book because he heard it was very good AND it was banned! This happened a lot and my locker got to overflowing with banned books, so I decided to put the unoccupied locker next to me to a good use. I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list.”
You can also see the information Neko provided on Yahoo! Answers to see if anyone else had done anything similar, and what sort of repercussions she might expect if found out.

It's hard not to smile and cheer (at least on the inside, if you're in a crowded room) for someone like this, with guts to stand up to a ridiculous policy to keep books out of the hands of teens who might actually learn from them.  These sorts of decisions are made in the name of protecting students, but protecting them from what?  Really, I've never figured it out.  Anyway, I hope this post is inspiring to some and a wake-up call for others.  Not all young people are just going to side by and let institutions get away with policing the books they read, so watch out, more Nekochan's are waiting in the shadows, looking for their chance to make a difference.

Thanks for listening!