I happened to catch the American Library Association's list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 today. I think the word "Challenged" is being kind. Let's call it what it is: these are the list of books that people most often tried to ban from school and public libraries across the country.
I found it to be an interesting and surprising list for a variety of personal and intellectual reasons.
Some books are really "no brainers" when it comes to people trying to ban them. Sex by Madonna is an obvious one. I mean, who wouldn't want to at least think of banning a book that has Madonna (wwaaaaaayyyy before her latest oh-so-boring "you must call me Miriam" yogini Kabbalistic proto-Jewish Mama phase) pictured in sexually suggestive poses with Vanilla Ice? Any time I even think of seeing a glimpse of a nearly naked Vanilla Ice with that freaky streaked pompadour/flat top haircut of his, part of my brain starts screaming "make it stop! make it stop!" To ban that book would probably be a kindness were it not for the fact that I find the act of banning a book to be far more patently offensive.
More suprising is the number of books that I tend to think of as solid childrens literature. I remember reading (or having read to me) Bridge to Teribithia, How to Eat Fried Worms, and A Wrinkle In Time in grade school. I also see James and the Giant Peach and Where's Waldo? on the list. Mommy Laid An Egg was recently used by a friend (and children's book author) to explain to her eldest son where his new sister came from. Even the Harry Potter series is represented, most likely for its association with the occult arts.
I also did not know that I had such a controversial high school education. A lot of the books in the curriculum in my high school's English program is on the list, including: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Outsiders, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Lord of the Flies. Am I some kind of radical because I read most of these books for my English classes when I was in my teens? I tend to think of these as classic high school English class literature -- books you didn't necessary like to read at the time, but were glad you read later on.
I will never get why people want to ban some of these books. I remember that a friend gave me Harry Allard's The Stupids Step Out to look at when I was a junior in high school. It's a dumb book, both literally and figuratively, and I was suprised to see it on a list of commonly banned books a few months after I first saw it. Now I see that The Stupids (series) is still well represented on the list.
There are all kinds of authors on the list. There is at least one Nobel laurate (Toni Morrison), a respected author of young adult books (Judy Blume), the author of the greatest American novel ever written -- according to Hemingway (Mark Twain), and the best selling American author ever (Stephen King). It seems that people are equal opportunity when it comes to censorship.
I don't know what to make of it. For a nation that seems to so mindfully enshrine its freedoms, we sure do try to ban a lot of books... many of which are acclaimed by others to be among the best written. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to ban the Bible. That would likely get the average public library book censor in a tailspin, I'm sure.
on 2004-08-30 at 4:44 p.m.
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