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?