September 27, 2005

Burned Books Week

Michele has a good post on Banned Books Week and the perversity of trying to mess with Captain Underpants. Of course, I agree with not banning stuff. Totally.

But there are still weird ironies and contradictions in the American Library Association's framing of the issue. I don't have anything to add to what I wrote about it last year, here and here. But I am wondering about the ALA's current position on the imprisoned "independent librarians" in Cuba - I've googled my fingers to the bone, and I haven't been able to find anything very recent on the ALA and the independent librarians. According to Nat Hentoff and Ray Bradbury, they're still in cages and their books are still smoldering:

"As to the disposition of the photographic negatives, the audio cassette, medicines, books, magazines, pamphlets and the rest of the documents, they are to be destroyed by means of incineration because they lack usefulness..."
That "challenged" enough for you?

UPDATE: I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but when you go to the ALA's web page on Book Burning, and click on Book Burning in the 21st Century, you get the following message: "Service Unavailable." Evidently...

UPDATE II: wow, that was quick! Service is now available. No mention of Castro's Fahrenheit 451 parties, though.

UPDATE III: Reason's Julian Sanchez has more thoughts on the ALA's arguably problematic notion of what constitutes a "challenged" book. It's not that the word "challenged" doesn't accurately describe the books in question (it does) but rather that there are several kinds of "challenges," some more egregious than others, and that they are all lumped together under the "banned and challenged" rubric regardless of the reasons for the challenges.

I'd also add that there appears to be no distinction drawn between successful and unsuccessful challenges - they are all lumped together as "challenges." Yet surely an unsuccessful challenge (e.g. where the desire to suppress a book is ignored or rebuffed) is an indicator of a healthy state of affairs with regard to freedom of expression rather than the reverse. Or am I wrong?

As Sanchez points out, Michael Bellesiles's notoriously factually erroneous The Arming of America is number three on the list. Yeah, it was a political hot potato, and people often had ulterior motives for attacking it that were every bit as suspect as the ulterior motives he had for writing it. But criticizing a scholarly work for containing fabrications and slovenly scholarship is quite a different thing than trying to prevent kids from reading The Catcher in the Rye because it contains the word "fuck." Or so it seems to me.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 27, 2005 04:34 PM | TrackBack

Book Burning in the 21st Century came up for me...Hope I didn't ruin your point.

Posted by: Amy 80 at September 27, 2005 04:58 PM

Well, when all this crap started (around the 5th or 6th grade), at least they didn't take away Huckleberry Finn, but they did have the school librarian white-out every instance of the word "nigger".

I also remember a kid in high-school getting suspended for posessing a copy of Mein Kampf. He had selected that book as his autobiography to read for a book report.

Posted by: Zaphod at September 27, 2005 07:20 PM

I never saw any problems with books getting banned in my high school. We didn't even have enough books to be picky with...In fact, I had to bring in my own books to prove that Jack Kerouac was a real writer because my literature teacher thought I was making him up.

Posted by: Amy 80 at September 27, 2005 07:30 PM

yikes Amy80,that's frightening...seriously?

at any rate,personally i'm very selective about what I read,but i think its important to have choices. I believe you need to be able to choose
what's right from the rest.

Posted by: just me at September 27, 2005 07:48 PM

I'm completely serious. I come from a very, very small town...Which is really no excuse for a literature teacher to not know who Jack Kerouac is. But, when "downtown" is a trailer park, you can't expect too much.

Posted by: Amy 80 at September 27, 2005 09:22 PM

I imagine that it's a lot easier to get people up in arms when books like Harry Potter are challenged, and it would be perhaps a lot more difficult if the list was only books that were actually banned.

I'm usually disappointed to not see the witch of blackbird pond on these lists. Not that bad books should be banned, but I mean, c'mon.

Posted by: Cody at September 29, 2005 04:15 PM