Law and Conversation

September 27, 2010

Read This: Banned Books Week

Filed under: Books and writing,First Amendment,Law,Read This!,YA — Helen Gunnarsson @ 12:16 pm
Tags: ,

It’s Banned Books Week here in the US.  I thought a good way to celebrate it would be by reading one or more books that have been banned or the subject of banning attempts, so I’m planning on checking out Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” which, along with Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” and “Twenty Boy Summer” by Sarah Ockler, was the subject of a complaint to the school board of Republic, Missouri

According to the local newspaper, Vonnegut’s book was removed from the Republic schools; the other two are still there.  For a description of the extent to which local school boards may exercise discretion over removing books from school libraries, see Island Trees School Dist. v. Pico by Pico, 457 U. S. 853 (1982).

I read “Speak” as well as another acclaimed YA novel by Halse Anderson, “Wintergirls,” last week and have put Ockler’s book on my list as well.  I might not have read any of these books absent the editorial attacking them, which caused quite a fuss last weekend among many of the readers and writers I follow on Twitter, including Halse Anderson.  My reaction clearly wasn’t unique, since, I see, the Springfield (MO) News-Leader, which published the editorial and subsequent articles about the controversy, has a sidebar noting that every single copy of those books has been checked out from the local library and is the subject of multiple holds.

The complaint about the books cites the profanity in “Slaughterhouse Five” and the references to sexual activity, including rape, in the other two books as support for the complainant’s argument that they “should be classified as soft pornography.”  In his editorial, he asked “How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality?”  But more than one person commenting on the various recent editorials in the News-Leader cited Biblical stories of incest (Lot and his daughters) and other similarly pungent tales, and wondered whether the complainant would extend his logic to the Bible.  Most of those who actually read the books in question also observed that they actually make strong statements against the violence that they refer to or depict.

Banned Books Week comes on the heels of a Gainesville, FL minister’s announcing, and then canceling, a public burning of the Koran.  Miriam at Dystel and Goderich Literary Management made the obvious link to Ray Bradbury’s classic “Fahrenheit 451,” saying “books, like phoenixes, rise from the flames of censorship.”

I recommended “Speak” last week.  After reading both that book and “Wintergirls,” a story about a teen’s struggle with depression and anorexia, I was mightily impressed.  Both, in my view, are excellent books for tweens, teens, and adults alike to read.  How any thinking person could argue that “Speak” qualifies as “soft pornography” is absolutely beyond me.

What’s your reaction on hearing that someone wants to have a book removed from a library or reading list?  Does that pique your curiosity so that you then want to read it?  Do you think it’s effective at keeping the book away from people?


  1. […] I’ve previously noted that it’s Banned Books Week here in the US.   The American Library Association has published a list of the most frequently banned and/or challenged books, not just in the US, but in other countries as well, together with summaries of the reasons stated for the challenges or bans.  According to this article, Playboy reported in 1984 that “The Lottery” was among the 30 most often banned works in American schools and libraries.  But it’s required reading in many schools also, including the 6th grade honors English class in my own community. […]

    Pingback by Dinner guests from purgatory « Law and Conversation — September 30, 2010 @ 12:18 am | Reply

  2. […] Books and writing — helengunnar @ 8:32 am Tags: book banning, Kurt Vonnegut, reading, war As I previously reported, I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut‘s “Slaughterhouse-Five” in honor of Banned Books […]

    Pingback by Slaughterhouse-Five and Banned Books Week « Law and Conversation — October 1, 2010 @ 8:32 am | Reply

  3. Banning books? Absurd on its face. Lawyers in those local areas of the country need to get their bar associations behind working with law students and commencing legal action to overcome such foolishness.

    Comment by Paul Bernstein — October 2, 2010 @ 8:42 am | Reply

    • Paul, as usual you have a terrific idea!

      Comment by helengunnar — October 2, 2010 @ 8:44 am | Reply

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