Banned Books Week is coming, September 22-28, 2013

September 18, 2013

Got a stack of banned books ready?

Banned Books Week is September 22-28 for 2013.

Banner for Banned Books Week 2013

So THAT’s what Lady Liberty holds in her left hand. (Reading the Declaration of Indpendence can still get you into trouble in a few places — mostly not in the U.S., but even in the U.S.)

We still have banned books?  Is that bad?

Consider, first, that on September 17, 2013, the Texas State Board of Education opened hearings on science textbooks to be “adopted” for Texas schoolsRadical elements of the SBOE furiously organized to stack rating panels with people who want to censor science, to stop the teaching of Darwin’s work on evolution.  (No, I’m not kidding.)

This comes in the middle of a rancorous fight in Texas over CSCOPE, a cooperative lesson-plan exchange set up by 800 Texas school districts to help teachers meet new Texas education standards adopted years ago (without new books!).  Critics labeled reading lists and any reading on religions other than Christianity “socialist” or “Marxist,” and complained that Texas social studies books do not slander Islam.

Then there is the flap over Persepolis, in Chicago.  With all the other trouble Chicago’s schools have several bluenoses worked to get this graphic “novel” banned (it’s not really a novel; it’s a memoir).  They complained about graphic violence in what is a comic book.  Persepolis tells the story of a young woman growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution.

The autobiographical graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was pulled from Chicago classrooms this past May by Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett due to “inappropriate” graphic language and images, specifically, scenes of torture and rebellion. Parents, teachers, and First Amendment advocates protested the ban, and as a result — while still pulled from 7th grade — Persepolis is currently under review for use in grades 8-10. (For details, see CBLDF Rises to Defense of Persepolis.)

Persepolis is an important classroom tool for a number of reasons. First, it is a primary source detailing life in Iran during the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War . Readers of all ages get a glimpse of what life is like under repressive regimes and relive this period in history from a different perspective. It also begs detailed discussion of the separation of church and state. Furthermore, this is a poignant coming-of-age story that all teens will be able to relate to and serves as a testament to the power of family, education, and sacrifice.

In America, textbooks get attacked for telling the truth about Islam and not claiming it is a violence-based faith; and supplemental reading gets attacked when it presents the violence the critics complain was left out of the texts.

We need to think this through.

What banned books have you read lately?

More:

Cover of "Persepolis"

Persepolis has been made into a movie.

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Myanmar freedom of the press? Progress, but not there yet

August 26, 2012

English: Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN ...

Burma (Myanmar) (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Economist carries the good news, with the sober warning that press freedom remains beyond the grasp of Myanmar journalists:

But as part of a wider reform programme introduced by President Thein Sein, the old media rules have gradually been relaxed. For several months many editors have no longer been required to submit articles for prepublication censorship on such subjects as the economy. The latest announcement removes the need to submit articles on more sensitive topics, such as politics or Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts.

The country’s journalists welcome the news, but they also give warning that this by no means ends restrictions on press freedom. These remain numerous and burdensome. In particular, two bits of repressive legislation remain: the Printers and Publishers Registration Act, dating from the start of military rule in 1962, and the 2004 Electronic Transactions Law. Under the first, publications can lose their licences if they supposedly harm the reputation of a government department, threaten peace and security, and much else. Under the second, a person can be imprisoned for up to 15 years for distributing via the internet information that the courts deem harmful to the state. Meanwhile, the censor board itself seems likely to remain in business, ready to punish reporters or editors who overstep the mark.

But, good news is good news, yes?  See the entire article at The Economist.


Strike a blow for freedom and the Constitution: Read a banned book!

September 26, 2011

John Maunu reminded me this week is Banned Books Week.  Details from the American Library Association:

Banned Books Week 2011

September 24−October 1, 2011

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.  Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections.  Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. In 2011, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; and PEN American Center also signed on as sponsors.

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, please see Calendar of Events, Ideas and Resources, and the new Banned Books Week site. You can also contact the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4220, or bbw@ala.org.


ACLU and “Uncensored” exhibit

September 4, 2011

Special invitation just for you:

You’re invited: “Uncensored” Celebration at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin

On Friday, September 9, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas announces “Uncensored,” the opening celebration for the fall exhibitions, “Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored” and “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.”

Materials from the archive of ACLU attorney Morris Ernst, who defended James Joyce’s novel Ulysses against obscenity charges, are featured in the exhibition.

Order your tickets from the Harry Ransom Center’s website.

MORE ON THE EVENT (PDF)

From the flyer on the event:

Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored

How did hundreds of thousands of books, pictures, plays, and magazines come to be banned, burned, seized, and censored in the span of less than 30 years? This exhibition, drawn from the Ransom Center’s holdings, reveals the rarely-seen “machinery” of American censorship from 1918 to 1941. Writers, reformers, agents, attorneys, and publishers battled publicly over obscenity and freedom of expression. Ulysses, All Quiet on the Western Front, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and The Grapes of Wrath came under fire from would-be censors alongside classics like The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales.   This exhibition tells how the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, the New England Watch and Ward Society, the Post Office Department, and the Customs Bureau irrevocably altered the American literary landscape.

The exhibit runs through January 22. The Harry Ransom Center is located at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe Streets on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. For more information, including a map of parking options, visit http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/visit or 512-471-8944.


Impromptu Banned Books Week Carnival

October 4, 2008

Banned Books Week flies by way too fast.  So many banned books, so little time.

Was it appropriate for Sarah Palin’s only debate with Joe Biden to come in Banned Books Week?  Or, was it fate?

Liam Sullivan at Panorama of the Mountains had a great idea, running a list of good blog posts on banned books, “Banned Books Week 2008” — I’ll try to encourage readership at his blog by not repeating any of his listings here.  That will make this little impromptu carnival shorter by a lot, and challenging to me to compose.

Let’s start with some of the big dog blogs.

Boing-Boing featured the great window display from the Twin Hickory Public Library in Glen Allen, Virginia:

Window display at the libraray in Glen Allen, Virginia, for Banned Books Week.  via Boing Boing

Window display at the Twin Hickory Public Library in Glen Allen, Virginia, for Banned Books Week. via Boing Boing

A display showing live humans reading may become even more rare over the next few years, as the No Child Left Behind Act begins to affect Americans.

Jesus’s General noted the same display, but with a banner that shows the necessarily political character of standing up for books and knowledge in an era that tries to discount education as “elitism,” and smart and educated people as “elitists,” as if “elite” didn’t mean “the best.”  Which brings up a sore point with me:  How have the book banners been so successful in stamping out dictionaries?  Dictionaries are great books to promote freedom — but just try to find a good one in most homes, or in school classrooms.  My father and mother kept a dictionary on their desk at the store they owned; a good dictionary used to be a great high school graduation gift for a student off to college.  When was the last time you saw such a thing used as such a gift?  I digress.

Banned Books Week banner found at Jesus General

Banned Books Week banner found at Jesus' General

Jesus’ General said:

Books can be dangerous. Many contain ideas. Sometimes unpopular ideas. Ideas that may make one think. Ideas that engage and transform us. Ideas that set off our imaginations. Ideas that can change the way we see the world. Ideas that may make decide to help change the world for the better. Clearly books can be subversive. And we can’t have that! An informed and imaginative people could do incredible things.

Paper Cuts, a book blog at the New York Times site, asks “What are you doing for Banned Books Week?” it features a nice photograph of the public library in Wasilla, Alaska.  Barry Gewen offers great insights into Banned Books Week.

One of the most informative of these lists is “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course, Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” — because it provides background on various censorship efforts over the years. It’s also the most amusing list, though it’s hard to laugh after your jaw has dropped.

George Orwell’s “1984” was challenged in Jackson County, Fla., because it was considered “pro-Communist.” Who would have imagined that the Wichita, Kans., public library would, ayatollah-like, challenge Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” for being “blasphemous to the prophet Mohammed”? In 1973, “Slaughterhouse Five” was actually burned in Drake, N.D. And Lindale, Tex., banned “To Kill a Mockingbird” from a school reading list in 1996 because it “conflicted with the values of the community” — leading one to wonder just what Lindale’s values are, and why anyone would want to live there.

Farm School, in honor of Banned Books Week, does a bang up job of nailing down the facts on the charge that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tried to ban books, when she was mayor of Wasilla (not exactly, but the details — truth is in the details).

Abby the Librarian carries another rundown of posts about Banned Books Week, including one from Mommy Madness that notes that banning books takes away a parental responsibility, giving it to the government.  (Did you catch that, Joe Leavell?)

Everybody’s Libraries carries an explanation of “Why Banned Books Week matters.

I’m Here, I’m Queer – What the Hell Do I Read? notices an uncomfortable trend, that several of the most-challenged books are challenged because they discuss homosexuality in non-condemning terms.

Cover of Ray Bradburys Fahrenheit 451, via Maias Blog - Just Add Coffee

Cover of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, via Maia's Blog - Just Add Coffee

Maia’s Blog – Just Add Coffee discusses Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and the irony of banning a book about banning books, in “Banned Books Week, Day 6.”  As you might imagine, this is the sixth in a series of posts.  The other books covered are Brideshead Revisited, Ivanhoe, Sons and Lovers, The Phantom Tollbooth (challenges coming, I presume, from the Taliban, al Quaeda, and Dick Cheney),  and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish gives Phillip Pullman, the author of The Golden Compass, a vent about religious objections to books.

Another roundup of Banned Books Week posts, at Books Worth Reading.

Chez Namastenancy rounds up even more, and points especially to a quiz about banned books at the venerable on-line site of the venerable British newspaper, The Guardian. (English teachers:  Can you say “bellringer?”)

Notes from Evil Bender discusses the importance of keeping ideas on the shelves of libraries, especially those ideas that some find “offensive” to “family values.”

School Library Media Activities Monthly carries this simple quote:

“Banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile.  Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading.”- Gretchen Knief, librarian, protesting a proposed 1939 ban against The Grapes of Wrath

Which posts about Banned Books Week sang out to you, that I’ve missed noting here?  Comments are open — please share.


Ready for Banned Books Week?

August 30, 2008

We celebrate Banned Books Week September 27 through October 4 this year. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say we celebrate the books that get banned, and the idea that freedom and liberty require that we not ban books.

Banned Books Week image from Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver

Banned Books Week image from Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver

Banned Books Week has been noted every year since 1982 in a long-running campaign from the American Library Association. Why?

Because ideas matter.  The right to express ideas, and the right to be able to read ideas, are at the foundation of our liberties.

Again in 2007, books most frequently targeted for banning include And Tango Makes Three, a delightful children’s story about two penguins taking care of an orphaned egg (too much like homosexuality), and Mark Twain’s powerful, essentially-American novel that makes the case against racism, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (ironically, because complainants claim to find the book racist).

People who ask that these books be pulled from the shelves often fail to recognize the irony — why should we ban a book about caring for orphans, or the book that makes the case against racism?

The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver sponsors an annual Banned Books Week essay contest for Colorado teens, in conjunction with the Colorado Freedom of Expression Foundation.

How will your school and local public library commemorate Banned Books Week?  Which banned books will you read, and urge others to read?

Which banned books are on your reading lists for classroom use? Does that strike a little too close to home?  Then you need to get informed, and get active.


Censorship in the oddest of places

May 12, 2008

I think it was Euripides who said, “Whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.” Evidence of the madness sometimes is small compensation for bearing the burden of having to deal with the madness of others.

Iaian Murray’s book is getting accolades from some of the odd sources you’d expect to rave over the book without ever having seen it or giving it a moment’s analysis as to accuracy, relevancy, or morality. I stumbled into a bunch of such sites looking to see why Murray took after me, and what I had said that he quoted, to earn me a place in his index.

One would not expect to run into a censorship buzzsaw at a site that proclaims itself to be free enterprise. But Bloodhoundblog has frustrated all my attempts to correct their errors on DDT, in a post “Cleaned by Capitalism: Our professed love of nature is an artifact of our enormous prosperity.” Perhaps I shouldn’t complain — the offending language on DDT was removed eventually. The extolling of Murray’s book remains, however, in an odd screed against public roads and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (go read the site — can you tell what the guy thinks about CFLs?)

Can the irony get much deeper?

Humorously, there is an ill-informed discussion of fascism vs. socialism as communism in the thread — the discussants blithely unaware that totalitarian censorship is a sin under any fair government scheme.

Was it just that they don’t want to discuss the science of DDT? I’ve corrected a minor error in history, too, in a later comment; will that comment hold up? You might want to check out the comments. Do you think the existence of public lands encourages their abuse? It seemed to me the discussants didn’t understand at all that much of our environmental trouble has occurred on private land, often problems of toxic pollution created by the owners of the land.

Ardent and loud “capitalists” often are the first to sell out. They fall for censorship, they fall for hucksterism — just so long as they still get to wave their flag, insult the academy, and a promise they can make some money doing it. Businesses didn’t stand up to fascism in the early 20th century — nor much of any other time business was promised a license to continue operations.

The issues are not simple. If we insist FedEx not do business in China, do we miss a great opportunity to insinuate a capitalist enterprise as a wedge into a crumbling structure of oppressive politics? If we allow China to host Olympic games, do we strengthen their oppressive structure, or weaken it?

Should we stand idly by while the Chinese government censors the internet (and this blog) to its own people? Should I not kick a little when Bloodhoundblog censors my comments?


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