Celebrate Banned Books Week!

Posted on September 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm

This is Banned Books Week, a national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982.
I believe parents should be careful about all media, including books, to make sure that children and teenagers are exposed to material that is age-appropriate and consistent with the values of the family. What I do here is intended to provide support for parents to make sure that happens. But that does not mean that I support the banning of books, movies, or other media by school systems or libraries. The books that attract controversy and calls for censorship can often be the books that best help us understand and cope with life’s most complicated, scary, and disturbing challenges. Banned books have included classics by Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, and Roald Dahl. There are many events in celebration of the freedom to read but the best celebration of all is to read something yourself and encourage your children to do the same.

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13 Replies to “Celebrate Banned Books Week!”

  1. READ A BANNED BOOK THIS WEEK! My mom – a librarian – encouraged us to read banned books. I try to keep as many on my shelf as possible. They are usually well written (but not always), challenging (usually), and worth the time (most of the time). As with anything else, not every banned book is a good read. But it is intruing to be able to talk about them and to have an informed opinion (as compared to banning it beciase someone else said to) based on the work itself.
    Go Read a Banned Book and join in the fun!

  2. Good suggestion, jestrfyl and great post, Nell. Perhaps I’ll try reading “My Sister’s Keeper.” My nieces love that book.
    I find it interesting that “Of Mice and Men” constantly shows up on these banned books lists. I have a sense that has less to do with the language or with Steinbeck’s perceived leftism than it does with the way that the book deals with the loneliness of many of its characters.
    It’s a book that made me cry almost from the beginning of it the first time I read it, and perhaps it is time to read it again. The movie version with Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lenny and Burgess Meredith as George was also quite affecting. (Who better to play a gentle giant who doesn’t know his own strength than Chaney?)

  3. Well said, jestrfyl! I was once asked to explain the 1st Amendment to first graders, and I wrote on the board: We are not afraid of ideas.
    At the now-closed Museum of the 1st Amendment in Chicago, they had a display of songs that had been the subject of censorship efforts over the 20th century. While some were certainly offensive, it was fascinating to track the different kinds of material and the different reactions to it over time. That’s one reason for access to banned material — so we can better understand our evolving (I hope) notions of what is acceptable. And the best response to offensive material is reply, not prohibition.

  4. As a former high school English teacher, when I experienced censorship of Of Mice and Men it was mostly about the language. It isn’t like most of the people who ban books have read them to sense the underlying themes and issues. 🙂 (My story about that is in the link.)
    My favorite author also gets banned often: Madeleine L’Engle.

  5. Hi, Wendy. Great blog, and I thanks for sharing your story. It’s not too surprising to find out that the students who showed the cusswords in “Of Mice and Men” to their parents were trying to get out of reading it.
    Perhaps books that are considered “difficult” or “inappropriate” should be taught to the parents first before they are added to the curriculum? I doubt very much that any of the parents who complain about books they have never read would have the intestinal fortitude to actual read those books before condemning them, but it would be an interesting experiment.

  6. Nell, weren’t you a supporter of California’s violent video game content regulation bill, yet now are saying “And the best response to offensive material is reply, not prohibition”? So it is not ok to ban books but it is ok to ban video games?
    You shouldn’t show that you have a bias against a particular media form just because – and it’s just a guess here – you don’t play video games. If it is not ok to ban books with certain content (and I do agree with what you said), then it is not ok to ban video games with similar content either.

  7. I don’t support content regulation in any category of media. I do support legislation to support parents in limiting their children’s access to media they consider inappropriate, and that includes holding stores responsible for selling adult-rated games to children.

  8. Nell, you are contradicting yourself here. First you say you don’t support content regulation in any category of media, yet you support legislation that regulates content in video games. Huh?
    I doubt that even if there are parents out there that don’t want their kids reading Shakespeare or watching Saving Private Ryan (adult rated/oriented material) that you would support that legislation, but it is perfectly ok when it involves only video games.
    Stores are not held responsible for selling R rated movies to children (it happens more often than selling adult-rated games) and the legislation you support would do nothing about that since it involves only video games.
    Funny how you support legislation to hold stores responsible for selling adult-rated games to children, but you are for stores/libraries to carry books that were banned because of childrens’ access to them.

  9. I don’t support legislation that regulates content. People can produce whatever they want but that doesn’t mean they should be able to sell it to children. I apply the same standard regardless of format, None. That goes for R and NC-17 movies, adult magazines, and music with explicit lyrics. Adults can buy anything they want and parents can buy whatever they think is appropriate for their children. But a 10-year-old on his own can’t buy Hustler or a ticket to an R-rated movie and he should also not be able to buy a game or DVD with explicit sex or graphic violence or other inappropriate material for the same reason.

  10. “But a 10-year-old on his own can’t buy Hustler or a ticket to an R-rated movie and he should also not be able to buy a game or DVD with explicit sex or graphic violence or other inappropriate material for the same reason.”
    FTC Issues Report on Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2007/04/marketingviolence.shtm)
    From the chart:
    Percent of Children ABLE to Make the Purchase Unaccompanied
    R-Rated Movie Theater Ticket 39%
    R-Rated Movie on DVD 71%
    Unrated Movie on DVD 71%
    Explicit-Content Labeled Music Recording 76%
    M-Rated Electronic Game 42%
    So what you are saying is children can’t purchase R rated theater tickets (wrong!) which is why you support a bill that would single out video games for regulation even though the percentage of children purchasing inappropriate games is almost on par with the theater ticket sales and significantly LOWER than DVD and music recording sales of inappropriate material. I’m not sure about Hustler, but I was able to purchase Playboy magazines/DVDs at stores and bookstores without ever having to show ID. Same thing with movies (have you ever had to show ID the last time you purchased an R rated/unrated DVD? I sure haven’t). I had to show ID when I purchased an M rated video game, however.
    I think you should watch that 10 year old a little more carefully rather than make uninformed assumptions.
    Besides, this article you wrote was about banned books. There are no laws or restrictions on preventing children from getting their hands on these books which you want unbanned. The law you support doesn’t restrict children’s access to the items you mentioned except for video games. So as long as a child’s access to ONLY video games is restricted by law, everything else is a-ok? Wow.

  11. None, who said it was okay? It seems to me I said the opposite, as did the FTC report you cite. The rules voluntarily adopted by the theater owners association do prohibit them from selling tickets to R-rated films to kids under 17. When I tried to buy a ticket for my 16 11/2-year old to see an R-rated movie, the theater would not permit it because they required him to be accompanied by a parent; my buying the ticket for him was not sufficient, so at least one theater is taking the rules seriously. Even the FTC report showed that 61% of theaters were not letting kids buy tickets to R-rated movies, slightly fewer than were permitted to buy M-rated games. So I am not sure why you think I was “wrong!” I was not trying to say it never happens; I was just saying it is against the rules. Inadequate enforcement of the rules is not the same as not having them or a reason for not having them. On the contrary, it is a reason for amending them and perhaps making them stronger, which is why I am willing to support legislation to impose some accountability on those who sell goods and tickets to children and young teens, as already exists for those who sell tobacco and liquor.
    You can disagree with my views, but please describe them correctly. I do not support banning books or indeed banning or censoring any form of media. But time, place, and access to children restrictions are not the same as censorship. I support restrictions on what can be sold to children without parental consent, whether it comes in the form of movie tickets, DVDs, magazines, music, or games. If you disagree that there should be any restrictions, fine; I support your freedom of opinion and expression. But not letting you mis-characterize the facts or my position. I have never made a distinction based on which form of media the material is in and do not think that games are any more dangerous or less deserving of protection than other formats. So if that is your complaint, please be reassured that at least as far as that issue is concerned, we are on the same side.

  12. Nell, I think we are on the same page for the most part, but the thing I don’t agree with you was in regards to the video game bill. The bill, as well as the author of the bill and the supporters, all say they single out video games for precisely what you say video games shouldn’t be singled out for (“more dangerous”, “less deserving of protection than other formats”). In fact, if you read the documents they submitted to the Supreme Court, they specifically make mention of this. That in and of itself should mean you shouldn’t support the bill.
    I don’t support the bill, not because I feel children should have full and free access to whatever they want whenever they want without parental permission, but because it is too obvious that the supporters of the bill don’t have children in mind with a bill like this that singles out video games yet allows children full and free access to everything else without ratings enforcement through law.
    Just as you say, theater chains voluntarily refuse to sell R rated tickets to children. Video games have ratings on them where stores voluntarily refuse to sell them to children. Why are video games singled out when it is exactly the same thing with movies?
    When you said a 10 year old cannot purchase R rated theater tickets, that sounded like it was something enforced by law since you compared it to the video game bill, but there is no law regarding movies. The video game bill won’t do anything regarding children’s access to inappropriate movies. I would be more sympathetic towards California’s goal if they had included movies, music, magazines, books, etc. but the legislators specifically stated they will not, nor will they ever, regulate these other media forms even for the same reasons as to why they feel video games should be regulated. Does that make sense to anyone as to why they would do this? It makes no sense to me, and that is the main reason I don’t support this bill.
    That’s why I saw your article as odd since you support this bill yet want to un-ban books that were banned specifically because they had content in them people felt shouldn’t be accessed by children. How is that any different than stores voluntarily refusing to carry video games or sell them to children? If stores start carrying these books, there is no law that will prevent the stores from selling them to children even if their parents don’t want to them to read those books.
    I support voluntary restrictions by stores – I don’t support forced government enforcement especially since there is a bias against video games that is not applied to other mediums, including movies and books with similar content. Parents are left to think that laws are already on the books for movies and other mediums which is incorrect – in fact Governor Schwarzenegger in a few press releases incorrectly stated this by saying we already regulate movies by law with similar content (wrong), so the same should hold true for video games.
    If bookstores start carrying the books you want unbanned, nothing stops them from selling the books to children except voluntary enforcement, not through law, which is quite different from your stance regarding video games. That was the point I was making.

  13. Thanks, None — as I suspected, we are not as far apart as you originally thought. But note that “banned” books may still be sold and bought by anyone. They are only “banned” from schools and libraries. On a related note, you can see my post about violent movies on airplanes.
    This is a very complicated set of issues with no easy answers and I do not mean to suggest that I am 100% happy with any of the alternatives. Or even 75%. I recognize that no rule or law is entirely effective at protecting children and that some inadvertent exposure to material parents will be unhappy about is inevitable, as is, of course, intentional exposure from curious kids. And I also admit to some inconsistency in applying a different standard to books than to magazines, comics, movies, music, apps, and games. My only justification, and I admit it is not as dispositive as I would wish, is that books tend to have a self-limiting access because mature material generally requires a level of reading ability that keeps younger audiences from being able to engage with the content. California legislature notwithstanding, I’d be glad to apply the same standard to all other forms of media.

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