Oct. 2, 2012 — Every year the American Library Association (ALA) sponsors “Banned Books Week.” This year it falls from Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
In honor of celebrating the right to choose what to read, I like to spend some time each fall finding out which of my most loved books are on the banned list.
What I’ve found is the question should be not which books have been banned, but which ones haven’t been.
Since last week I took part in “The Hobbit” reading marathon at Margie’s Book Nook, I decided to take a look and see if J. R. R. Tolkien, one of my favorite authors, had escaped the censor’s net.
He didn’t. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” series shows up as number 40 on the ALA’s list of most frequently banned books. The main reason: Hobbits smoke.
The first time I read this series I was 12 year old and I clearly remember the charm of Gandalf’s magical smoke rings and Pippin and Merry relaxing with their pipes on the ruins of Saruman’s castle after Treebeard and the Ents destroyed it. But, according to some, those pesky Hobbits are sending out a bad message.
The other commonly cited reason it’s banned would probably surprise Tolkien, a devout Christian — the book sends out an anti-religious message. Some folks in Alamagordo, N. M. took this so seriously that in 2001 they held a public burning of his books outside the Christ Community Church.
Many of my favorite books and authors turn up regularly on the banned lists: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Ken Kesey, “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison’s, “Invisible Man,” pretty much anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller and Toni Morrison, but each year I find some surprises. One of the big ones is when I discovered Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” as number 33 on the ALA’s list. Seriously? What could a sled dog possibly do to offend the censors?
This year the number three banned book was the popular “The Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins with the reasons listed as anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitivity, offensive language, occult/satanic and violence. I read these books and, as far as I’m concerned, their biggest offense is too many sentence fragments.
Banning books is nothing new. Historically, whenever one nation conquered another, the first thing they did was burn the libraries. Do we really know what happened in history or do we only know what the subjugators want us to know? Is there more to Benedict Arnold’s treachery than what has come down in the history books? Was Cleopatra a well-loved queen or a tyrant? Who knows how censorship has re-written history?
I’ll be the first to admit there are books I find offensive, and I’m not opposed to parents monitoring young children’s reading material. I also believe there is a gray area, especially when it comes to erotica vs. pornography, but these are choices I can make for myself; I don’t appreciate someone choosing for me. I believe when one group feels they have the right to decide what’s moral for the rest of us, we’re treading on dangerous ground.
Nazis were notorious book burners, but Parent Teacher Associations have also had their say. Fundamentalists of all persuasions are fond of deciding what we should and should not read. Although not books, a recent tragic example of censorship is the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which the Taliban bombed.
But as the ALA points out, censorship in our own country is alive and well.
Fortunately, due to the efforts of librarians, teachers and community members who are willing to speak out for our right to choose our reading material, most of these books remain available.
The ALA has been a major advocate of keeping all kinds of books on the shelves of libraries and bookstores, so this week, consider taking a trip to your local library and thank them for their efforts in keeping reading material free for us to choose -- or not.
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