When a group of well-meaning, I’m sure, if somewhat overly zealous citizens attempts to ban , or heaven forbid, burn books, I almost invariably find that the objects of their righteous indignation and moral outrage constitute what I would consider a veritable ‘Required Reading List’ for any high school English course I was charged with overseeing, should I ever wind up on the curriculum committee of our local Board of Education.
Let me take you on a stroll down a list of some famous books which people or groups have attempted to remove, with varying degrees of success, from school reading lists or have pulled from their local public libraries.
Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Polk
Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
Twilight (series), by Stephanie Meyer
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
The concerned parents, citizens, church groups, etc, usually cite as one their reasons for demanding the ban the fact that society, especially young underage children, need to be protected from these books.
It’s bad enough when concerned albeit misguided parents and groups try to pull this stunt. How much worse is it when they convince politicians to change the law to effect the same results! Lawmakers, too, often echo the ‘protecting our children’ mantra. At the local “Stop our library exposing kids to Captain Underpants!” level, it is merely silly and overprotective. At the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, it’s scary and dangerous.
I’m sure there are ways to protect society and children from obscene materials. Reducing the entire adult population of Canada to reading only what is fit for children is, I would suggest, not the best option. 
Or as Mark Twain once put it, “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak because a baby can’t chew it.”
Luckily, we have courts and judges to rein in this kind of schtick. In Canada, at any rate, judges are appointed and therefore don’t have to pander to people’s fears, prejudices, mob mentality and knee-jerk reactions to get and keep their jobs. Their positions are not dependent on the whim of the masses.
As a newbie bl*gger (as opposed to a REAL writer, as was recently pointed out to me by a near and dear 19-year-old ‘real writer’ friend of mine) , as a former artist and as someone who has more than a passing interest in defending constitutional rights, especially freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion, it chills me to the bone when a person or group tries to prevent others from reading things of which they disapprove. You want to keep Captain Underpants from damaging your own kids? Great! If you think the Harry Potter or Twilight series is so soul-endangering that you as an adult don’t want to read it, let alone your young teenage daughter? Mazel tov! But to try to get a library, school or government (at any level) to prevent others from seeing otherwise legal books? I don’t think so.
Keep Freedom Alive. Read Banned Books! 
 I am not discussing attempts by the government to ban books. What I am talking about in this piece is attempts by groups and, in some cases, individual citizens to get schools and libraries to “ban” certain books. In the case of schools, they want to stop some books being taught in school and, in some cases, even prevent having the students read passages aloud from the books. In the case of libraries, they want the books removed from the shelves altogether or at least have the books available only upon request and only to adults.
 As United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, “The State insists that, by thus quarantining the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women, in order to shield juvenile innocence, it is exercising its power to promote the general welfare. Surely, this is to burn the house to roast the pig . . . We have before us legislation not reasonably restricted to the evil with which it is said to deal. The incidence of this enactment is to reduce the adult population of Michigan to reading only what is fit for children. It thereby arbitrarily curtails one of those liberties of the individual, now enshrined in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that history has attested as the indispensable conditions for the maintenance and progress of a free society.”
 More on this in a future blog!
 Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read (September 24−October 1, 2011).
For more information, check out the Banned & Challenged Books section on the American Library Association’s site.
Read Full Post »