We’re in the midst of Banned Books Week, the annual effort by publishers, booksellers, librarians and authors to call attention to the fact that even in 2014 we live in the world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. People are still trying to ban books from public and school libraries. Probably burn them too. My thinking is if a big bad old book scares you so much, don’t open it. Then seek help.
This year’s focus is on comic books and graphic novels, which get attacked just like “serious” books, whether the Captain Underpants series or the brilliant Persepolis. I’ve read comic books since I was a kid and still love them. I take it as a perverse complement that the book banners and burners are coming after one of my favorite kinds of literature. If you want to read a great book on how much damage such hysteria can do, read The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hajdu’s brilliant history of what happened when the Red Scare in America was followed by the comic book scare. Batman and Robin were gay, you see, and scary comics were going to make murderers of children.
My favorite column by the late Mike Royko is also my favorite piece about those who would censor what we read. At the time, Royko’s newest book was about to come out. In the column, he recounts how a preacher in upstate New York attacked a previous book, calling for it to be banned. Sales of the book skyrocketed. The rest of the column is a hilarious recounting of Royko’s phone call with the preacher trying to convince the man Royko’s newest book was worthy of similar treatment.
Hmm… maybe I need someone to ban Last Words.
I don’t mean to make light. Challenging books is serious. The Royko story just illustrates how silly are those who do it.
Here are the top 10 challenged books in 2013 from the Banned Books Week site:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
- A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
- Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence
Banned Books Week, which runs Sept. 21–27, is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Association of College Stores, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center, and Project Censored.