Sunday, July 25, 2010

Banned Books Week

Posted by Chris at 9/13/2006 9:55 AM...

Banned Books Week

This week is our annual celebration of censorship in America, an event primarily promoted by the American Library Association, which posts annual lists of the most frequently challenged or banned books in the United States. You wouldn't think this an issue on our great land, with Freedom of Speech embedded into our core governing documents, and a founding myth of self-governance, personal responsibility, and the need of an educated populace to make our Republic work.

Censorship has a long and disturbing history in the United States, albeit not to the extremes witnessed in other places. Government censorship in the United States is also not a new phenomenon: it didn't arrive with Joseph McCarthy, William Tecumseh Sherman, Woodrow Wilson, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, or any other recent event. Censorship arrived with the Founding Fathers: check out events during the Quasi War with France, or the lead-up to the War of 1812 for examples.

Censorship and manipulation of the press by the military and other governmental bodies during war is a particular research interest of mine, so I tend to focus on those types of events, but censorship exists at many other levels in our society. Usually, this takes the form of community activists challenging books in the name of "protecting" the values and morals of children or their community from the content of certain books. These days, items that are politically controversial are frequent targets: like EPA archives, government studies of global warming, or old estimates of U.S. inventories of ICBMS.

As part of Banned Book Week, Google is providing access to a significant portion of the most banned books. Scrolling through the list, it is quite interesting how many of them I was assigned to read in High School: Brave New World, Catch-22, Heart of Darkness, Slaughterhouse Five, The Diary of Anne Frank, Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, The Jungle, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and The Lord of the Flies. I'm wondering why some places see these works as items to assign their students, while others are desperately trying to keep their young people away from them. The same goes for most of the Judy Bloom books that frequently appear on the list, Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time, or the Harry Potter series.

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