Banned Book Week 2009

Support the First Amendment, Read a Banned Book

This has been a banner year for attempting to ban books. Possibly I'm hearing about them more because I'm on Twitter and I hear directly from the authors' whose work is being challenged. And since I mostly follow authors I like, I know the books and are completely confused by the idea that someone thinks they should be taken away from their intended audience. What's especially peculiar to me is that many of those who attempt to censor don't actually read the books. They flip through the pages and find a few words they find offensive and decide to make sure nobody has access to these books. It's not just sad; it's pretty ridiculous and presumptuous.

To take a recent and ongoing example regarding a book called The Bermudez Triangle, Pink jacket lady A may not want her daughter reading a story about what happens when two of three friends realize they love each other, but to a young lesbian who feels like a complete outsider, this book could be just what she needs. Justine Larbalestier has written a marvelous blog post about the dangers of challenges that go beyond just the book in question.

There were more than 500 challenges in the US last year, but that number isn't a true representation as many of the challenges weren't reported to the ALA (American Library Association). This map may be of interest to you. It's a representation of recent challenges and if you mouse over the blue arrows you can read the details of the challenge. It's fascinating and frightening at the same time. You can also download a PDF of banned and challenged books in 2008 – 2009 here:

This year I'm going to talk a little about some of the books I've read over the years. Of course longtime readers know that I'm a big fan of Catcher in the Rye, probably because I never had to analyze it in high school. This one seems to show up year after year, I guess because, well I have no idea.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, another book I believe I've written about, has also been challenged or banned. It's a pretty scary book set in a dystopian society where women are objectified and subjugated to a horrifying degree, but how does keeping people from reading it make the world a better place? I'm more and more baffled by the idea that if Jane Doe doesn't like what she reads she has to make sure nobody else ever sees it.

I'm intrigued by how many books about animals are challenged. And Tango Makes Three, a book about penguins, two of whom constitute a same sex couple, is the number one most challenged book right now. I wonder if the complainers also go down to the zoo and picket the actual gay penguins. The mind boggles. Another charming book that's catching a lot of flack is Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen. It's about a little girl guinea pig whose favorite uncle is getting married. Instead of thinking that she's gaining a new uncle, she's worried that Uncle Bobby won't love her as much as once he also has a husband to love. This is a perfectly legitimate concern and a cousin to the worry children have when they hear a new baby is joining the family. This book has been challenged as inappropriate for young children but it's exactly those young children who have these concerns. Again, I'm baffled but here's a great blog post from a bright librarian who responds to a challenge in his library.

According to this list one of my, and my children's favorite books of all time, James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, was one of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the last decade. Is that because they don't want children dreaming of living in a peach pit in the middle of Central Park? Or because they don't like seagulls on strings? Or perhaps because they don't like grouchy centipedes.

I read quite a few books that were challenged this year, including some I talked about in other columns like John Green's books three books. How many do you think you can read before this time next year?

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Terri who writes in to say, "I know how they got the script for the Vampire Diaries. They took Twilight and left it out in the sun until it faded. Then they made the watered down verso in. Yawn." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at