Saturday, January 22, 2005

Trivial Censorship

The American Library Association has published a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the last decade. It's not entirely clear, but it appears that these are requests for books to be pulled from public and/or school libraries. The challenges are mostly by parents, with a good fraction made by "administrators" (principals?, school board members?).

Anyway, what's amazing is the banality of most of the books on the list. You'd expect that the top books would be those that really disturbed you? Advocated some horrid political system? Other countries have banned books. You know, like the old USSR banning The Gulag Archipelago. The Nazis' burning books of "Jewish Science". You'd like to think, if a book was being banned, that it would be actively dangerous to the society involved.

So what's the top "challenged" book of the last decade? Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series. Which, in my ignorance, I'd never heard of. On the surface, it appears to be a set of scary stories for children. Apparently, it's a threat to the Republic.

Others on the list have titles like Daddy’s Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies. Well, we know what those are about. Heaven forbid that kids should read books about what they see in real life.

Then there are the books like It’s Perfectly Normal, which tries to teach kids about the physical and psychological changes they go through while growing up. You know, to save parents from "birds and bees" talks. But, I guess, that offends some people. Funny, I suspect that those people don't do the birds and bees things very well, either.

And then we have the trivial. While I enjoy Harry Potter, and am anxiously waiting for the 6th book, I recognize that it's not Shakespeare, it's not Jane Austin, it's not even Dickens. Heck, E. E. Smith gives Rowling a run for the money. I suppose the HP books could be said to "encourage" witchcraft, but, you know, the witchcraft they encourage requires lots of hard work and study, works in a logical fashion, and has dire consequences if wrongly used. In other words, it's a stand-in for modern day science and technology.

And what about Anastasia Krupnik? I've seen the books, my kids read the books, you know, they've survived so far.

OK, there's one book on the list that should never have been written. Private Parts, by Howard Stern. But who'd want to read it anyway?

This is the problem with living in a more or less free society, I guess. If you allow political dissent, then you can't ban political books. And if you can't ban political books, you're left with wanting to pull books which reference body parts.

The encouraging thing was that there were only 6,364 challenges reported. In the whole decade. Meaning only 650 or so per year, or two a day. Over the whole country. To me, this is encouraging, like finding out that only 9 people protested the showing of naked statues during the Athens Games' opening ceremonies.

In the next decade may the number be in three figures.

Footnote: Yeah, I'm ignoring some books, like Huck Finn and Caged Bird Sings. These books, of course, require you to think about injustice, and how society functioned then and functions now. (Huck's a good read, as well.) People who want these banned don't want to think, and so should be ignored.