01 October 2009

Banned Books Week

As Tracing the Tribe readers have noticed, I like the new JPS Blog. Yesterday, Naomi took a stab at banned books and also referenced Tablet Magazine's article on the same subject.

Most voracious readers know that the quickest route to best-seller status is to have a book banned or challenged. It is good business for authors and publishers. Tracing the Tribe figures (tongue in cheek, of course) that for an author to really make it, they need to figure out a way to get their book banned so that it becomes a best-seller.

Hmmmm ... any ideas on how we can get some really excellent genealogy books challenged and increase interest in the market for readers looking for the "really good parts"?

Both posts stem from this week's annual celebration of Banned Books Week by the American Library Association. The ALA's awareness campaign is a stand against censorship and for intellectual freedom. It encourages the reading public to read books that have been targets of attempted bannings. Readers are encouraged to challenge such events in local schools, libraries, bookstores and religious institutions.

Read Naomi's JPS Blog post. She was planning to compile a list of Jewish authors whose books were nearly banned or challenged, but Tablet Magazine beat her to the punch. Here are some books referenced by Tablet and the reasons for the banning attempt:

Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends (1974) was challenged in Wisconsin (1986) because it “suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, rebellion against parents,” and in Pennsylvania (1993), because the poem “Dreadful” (with the line “someone ate the baby”) encourages cannibalism. A Light in the Attic (1981) was challenged in Wisconsin (1985) because “How Not to Dry the Dishes” “encourages children to break dishes.”
There's even a poem entitled "A Pile of Vile Books." The last verse:

Reading is dangerous, everyone knows.
Young minds are quite fragile, like eggs.
If you teach open-mindedness, that is just gross.
We will come there and break both your legs.
Tablet referenced some interesting challenges (read the complete article for the full list and links), and provided a link to the ALA's 100 Most Frequently Banned or Challenged Books of the 1990s.

A Louisiana librarian (1972) painted a diaper on the naked baby in Maurice Sendak's "In the Night Kitchen." In Minnesota (1993), it was challenged because "reading the book could lay the foundation for future use of pornography." This book ranks 10th on the ALA's list above.

In Illinois (1977), the Illinois Police Association wrote to libraries asking them to remove the award-winning "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble," by William Steig, because police officers are drawn as pigs, even though the pigs in the book "are perfectly nice pigs."

Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret" is ranked 60th on the ALA's list and frequently challenged for sexual and religious themes.

Then there's the case of Robie Harris’s comic-book style sex-education books. In 2008, a Maine library patron borrowed the book and refused to return the "disgusting" volume. Other patrons donated four additional copies of the book, which are in circulation. The book has just gone into its 15th edition.

Tracing the Tribe really enjoyed the Tablet reference to a Georgia school banning "The Bad Beginning," the first volume in Lemony Snicket's (aka Daniel Handler) "A Series of Unfortunate Events." Why? Well, it seems the "evil" character tries to marry his niece, and the school deemed the book to endorse incest.

Jewish law, of course, permits both uncle-niece and cousin marriages, so from the Jewish viewpoint, that challenge wouldn't hold water.

In any case, the piece is an interesting read.

How many banned or challenged books are on your own shelves?

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