The banned book myth

The banned book myth

In case you missed it, this is Banned Book Week, as so declared by the American Library Association, and everyone is getting in on it, including Google. To hear them talk about it, you’d think that books were being pulled from the shelves of Borders and Barnes & Noble and tossed in bonfires.

Just what are these banned books? How about “The Great Gatsby” and “The Grapes of Wrath” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” for starters. Wait a minute, you say, those books aren’t banned. You can still buy them, as the Amazon links right there attest.

Aha, says Jeff Jacoby in a 2001 column, that’s because you haven’t bought in to the myth of the banned books.

For a “banned book,” it turns out, doesn’t mean a book that has been banned. It means a book about which somebody, usually a parent, has raised an objection—typically that it is too violent or sexually explicit, that it contains offensive language, or that it is not age-appropriate. The vast majority of these complaints deal, as you might expect, with books assigned in school classes or found in school libraries. And as even the ALA acknowledges, the complaints usually go nowhere and the books stay where they are.

What all this talk about banned books is supposed to do is to equate parents who are vigilant about what their children read with the censors of totalitarian regimes afraid of literature that undermine their oppression of their people.

Book banning acceptable to liberals

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  • “Jacoby notes several books by conservative authors and whole publishing houses that have been shut out by bookstores and libraries because of the liberal viewpoint of the book buyers. Do they have a right to do that? Of course.”

    I rather doubt taxpayer-funded libraries should grant that kind of leeway to their librarians.

    I visited the opening of a new local library branch, and I was surprised to find a prominent display of Wicca and spellcasting books in the young adults’ section.  It smelled like proselytism, to my nose. 

    Of course, patrons can make suggestions.  Here’s a nice site about getting Catholic books into the public libraries:

  • The point is that they get to make decisions about what books to put on the shelves and what not to put there based on limited funds and space.

    Should librarians rule out whole categories based on ideology? Probably not, but then that’s for the taxpayers in that locale to take up with the politicians overseeing the library’s funding.

  • I work in “acquisitions” for a public library on the South Shore of Boston. Mostly I place orders for books chosen by our director and adult and children’s services librarians. I must say that there is a definate political slant (liberal) to our collection and too many books about Iraq, the war and how the presisident is supposedly bungling the effort. When I dare to express my ‘conservative” views in discussion (a very hostile environment) or verbalize my suport for a certain book (i.e. Ann Coulter’s Godless)I am dissed.

    Unfortunately, yesterday we had a request from a patron to purchase that new book “Confession” by the New Jersey governor who was recently on Oprah. And I had to order it.

    As for books on wicca, when I check them out to a patron (always a teenaged girl) I pray a Hail Mary and Saint Michael prayer silently for their soul and protection.

  • So, totally with you on the shameful tendency to hype up complaints about liberal books, while turning a blind eye to people actually keeping conservative books off shelves.

    That said, I must say that parents should monitor what their children are reading, and explain to them what is appropriate and inappropriate and why.  It should not be up to the schools or libraries to do so.  And that goes both ways.

  • Of course, even if parents monitor what the kids are reading and explain to them what’s appropriate, what if the teacher assigns the book? I think that’s what the parent complaints are usually about.

  • Which highlights to silliness of Banned Book Week, because they don’t make the distinction between banned books and challenged books; they don’t acknowledge the rights of parents to challenge the assignment of objectionable books are required reading by schools; and they don’t make it clear that the banned books are not really banned in the US.

    Also, the reason the Bible is number one is because the compilers of the list have characterized the Church’s pre-19th century insistence that only those who have been educated in the faith should be allowed to read the Bible to avoid the spread of error and heresy—cf. the Protestant Reformation—as a simple act of oppression and book banning.