September 28th, 2010
12:06 PM ET

In tradition of Twain, authors lash out at censors this week

John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" was one of the most commonly banned books between 1990-2009.

Happy Banned Book Week, This Just In readers!

Librarians, wordsmiths and discerning readers the nation over are beating their bound volumes this week in protest of those who seek to censor literary works.

The commemorations range from banned book displays to wrapping books in caution tape to having people read outlawed books from a makeshift jail cell.

It should be no surprise devotees to the written word are incensed by efforts to ban books. History shows their longstanding commitment to keeping literature untrammeled.

Mark Twain is oft-credited with saying, "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." German poet Heinrich Heine more seriously addressed the matter in an 1821 play, warning, "Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people."

The prediction came 112 years before Nazis burned thousands of books in a public square. The quote from Heine, whose books were among those burned in 1933, is engraved in the ground at the Bebelplatz to remind people of the tragic day.

Across the United States this week, several groups are making similar - though less prodigious - statements about attempts to ban or censor books.

According to the American Library Association, there were at least 460 challenges to books in schools and libraries last year. The association estimates that the number could represent as few as a fifth of the total challenges because many are never reported.

"Not every book is right for each reader, but we should have the right to think for ourselves and allow others to do the same," ALA President Roberta Stevens said in a news release titled, "Book banning alive and well in the U.S."

Here is the ALA's list of top banned/challenged books over the last decade:

  1. "Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling
  2. "Alice" series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  3. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier
  4. "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  5. "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck
  6. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou
  7. "Scary Stories" series by Alvin Schwartz
  8. "His Dark Materials" series by Philip Pullman
  9. "ttyl" series by Lauren Myracle
  10. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

Some of these works have long been the target of censors. Schwartz's, Angelou's, Cormier's and Steinbeck's offerings were actually on the top 10 list for the previous decade, according to the ALA.

The ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom defines a challenge as any "formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." The complaints most often come from parents, and not all challenges result in bans.

Sexually explicit material and offensive language are commonly cited as top complaints, but the ALA says books have also been challenged because they're violent, "anti-family," unsuited to an age group, or because they contain violence, homosexuality or religious viewpoints.

However, The Baltimore Sun points out that the reasons can be a little more frivolous: "A Light in the Attic" was banned because it encouraged children to break plates so they wouldn't have to dry them; "Little Red Riding Hood" caused problems because the wine in the picnic basket condoned alcohol use; and "The Rabbit's Wedding" became controversial because one bunny was black, the other white, thereby encouraging miscegenation.

Various bookstores, schools and libraries this week will erect banned book displays and host authors whose works have drawn the ire of censors. Colleges like the University of Arizona and DePauw University will have such displays, and Arizona will focus on "To Kill a Mockingbird" (No. 21 among banned books over the last decade) and offer students a free screening of the movie Tuesday. The book is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California will wrap banned books in yellow-and-black caution tape and encourage students to review the books for gift cards and candy.

At the Kalamazoo Public Library in Michigan and at Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln, Nebraska, local artists are creating pieces commemorating books that have been yanked from shelves.

Several libraries and bookstores are holding readings of banned books, and the Yuma County Library District in Arizona has rounded up volunteers to sit in its makeshift jail cell and read for a term of 30 minutes. Last year, the sheriff was among the participants, the Yuma Sun reported.

In Chicago, Illinois, where the ALA is headquartered, banned authors Myracle and Carolyn Mackler are scheduled to share their experiences Saturday in Bughouse Square. Chbosky, Richardson and Parnell could possibly show up as well. The City Lit Theater Company will perform work from authors who can't make the event.

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression has myriad ways - grand and quaint - to celebrate the week if there isn't an event near you.

Banned Book Week runs through Saturday.

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Filed under: Education • Harry Potter • Illinois
soundoff (125 Responses)
  1. cody

    #%@! censorship.

    September 29, 2010 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. BookFreak

    Free the minds of our youth!

    September 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RWK

    Make Money Fast:
    1) publish a book which has content which will incite censors
    2) make anonymous complaints to libraries, and inform those who are likely to be offended
    3) get lots of publicity over calls for its banning or its actually being banned
    4) The publicity leads to sales
    5) PROFIT!

    October 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brendan petersen

    Harry Potter is a harmless, fun book to read. Sure, it talks about witchcraft, but that's what fiction novels/stories are for. For parents, I'd say they should take the time to read what their kids are reading and make the decision in your home. That means the parents would be making the decision on their own knowledge and not someone else's opinion.

    December 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dominique allen

    in my class we are reading of mice and men the fact that some of these novels (for i have not read them all) should be on here is crazy. Harry Potter is a fun harmless book it is not suggesting we all go out and try to use magic it is a fiction book that takes you away form everyday life. Of Mice and Men it talks about life and the hardships they had. yes the language is extensive but it just shows the true life in the characters and what they would say and do. it takes you to a time and place you have never been

    December 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. G

    Amazing how many books that have good material have the right to be banned in public school. The elements in many are so minimal that it should not make a difference.

    December 16, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Toopie 43

    Of mice and men shouldn't be on their. One of Steinbecks greatest books in my opinion. All the profanity in the book is nothing to the moral of the story which the book contains.

    January 13, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rhett

    of mice of men was a great book, it should not be on there

    January 14, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
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