Monday, September 27, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ A Challenging Book Discussion...

During our first ever Bumble Town Chat this past Friday night, one of the bloggers involved (Boliyou) pointed out that this week is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association among other organizations. That doesn't mean that America's libraries go around banning books all week. To the contrary. It is a week to highlight the effect of censorship in the world of words.

Year after year, a select minority become offended by a book they find on their library shelves or on their child's assigned reading list at school. So they challenge the book's appropriateness or worth and ask that it be banned and removed. What this does is to allow a small handful of people to restrict what the rest of the community is able to access. If you want to read it you have to buy it. Not something everyone has the ability to do. This contradiction to the First Amendment boggles my mind every time. Banning books is an act of censorship. Thankfully it often times backfires and brings greater attention to the very work these people were trying to take out of the spotlight completely.

Generally, books that show up on the banned or challenged list each year are books that cover things that are uncomfortable. Books that speak about parts of the past that are not pretty. Books that speak about parts of the present that aren't widely accepted or understood. People challenge books out of fear rather than common sense. While they have every right to disagree with a certain work's message, language or content they do not have the right to keep others from making up their own minds about it.

I do think that selecting a book to meet the best maturity level of students in schools is a challenge. And often it is good to use books to challenge a student's mind about the world, their relationships to others and things beyond our control. If the assigned reading does not fit with your religious or moral beliefs you have every right to work with the school to find alternative selections for your child. You could use the book as an opportunity to discuss your passionate beliefs with your child rather than try and hide them from opposite opinions. But you should not dictate the rights of everyone else in that school.

I am wrapping up a re-read of my favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird. This re-read was a special birthday present to myself. Every year someone challenges this book. This year, a school in Ontario pulled it from their shelves. Banned. For using the N word and portraying black people in a bad light. When I participated in an online book group discussion of this book last year on Goodreads, my eyes were opened. This group consisted primarily of British folk. Time and again members commented that the writing was beautiful but the story just wasn't believable because of all the stereotypical characters. They had not spent a lot of time in their schooling covering America's history in the 1900's and truly found it hard to believe that our nation was REALLY LIKE THIS. Blacks were treated as secondary citizens - and begrudgingly as citizens at all. Slurs were used. They had no rights. They had no chance. But things have changed. Books like this help to show how far we have come - and how much further we still need to go. Rather than using this incredible book to teach lessons of integrity, courage and respect, people want to take it away and sweep it under the rug. Ignorance is not bliss. It leads us right back to the very heart of what To Kill A Mockingbird illustrates so well.

This all gets my blood boiling to be quite honest. It rankled the skin of my fellow bloggers in our group chat and so we decided, in honor of Banned Books Week, that we would select a book from the list and encourage a big group read - to be discussed at the next Bumble Town Chat on Friday, October 22nd at 8:30PM ET. There were, sadly, a lot of amazing books to choose from on this list. But one stood out to us as incredibly ironic - Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This dystopian book hits a tad too close to home showing what could actually happen to this free world of ours with just a bit of panic. Kind of what our world would be like if all those book challengers gained the power to restrict information, control human behavior and suppress certain sections of society and those who support them - in the name of humanity's survival. Absolutely chilling.

If you have never read this book, now would be a terrific time to do so. It is a book that you will need to discuss upon completion. And we will be doing just that on 10/22. If you have read this book before, you understand why it was selected. And I'm sure you still have lots to say about it. So come back and say it. There is no censorship on The Bumbles Blog.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Ack! I missed your chat last Friday. It is a long story about why I was totally checked out for the evening, but this is my life as of late. I am horrified every year when this week comes up that TKAM is at the top of the list. I think every human being should read that book. I DO think that there are certain things I don't want my 12 year old to read yet, but she'll get her chance.

caite said...

This is the one subject that I appear to differ with most people in the blogsphere. I think this event make a mockery of real book banning that takes place in many places in the world.

First, not having a book available in a library because someone..the librarians, the community, a faceless community..thinks it is not appropriate, especially for children, is not banning a book. These books are published, they are available...but maybe not at the expensive of the taxpayer of a specific community that does not want to spend their money on it. That book is not banned! Many decisions on what books to buy for a library are made and many things go into those decisions.

There are many countries that truly ban books. They are not published. You can not buy it. You can be punished for owning it...that is NOT what we are taking about in the US.
What we are talking about is whether there are ANY books that should not be on a public library shelf for a 12 year old to pick up. And I suggest there most certainly are. Now how you go about that, who makes that decision is a whole other question. Go read the American Library Association webpage on this subject..because see, they thing only they, not you, not the taxpayers, have the right to make that decision.

ok...putting the soapbox away.

jehara said...

I have to admit that I've never read To Kill a Mockingbird. In high school it was assigned reading for English but not AP English. We had different books. I think I missed out on a lot of books that others read in school. This post has me wanting to make some time for this book.

ds said...

I am sorry to have missed your discussion last Friday--and I will miss the next one, due to travel (albeit travel that will give me a chance to read one of the most banned books of all time). I so love TKAM; I so love The Handmaid's Tale. It is one of Atwood's best and will generate a lively discussion, I'm sure.
There is much to be said about book banning (don't forget book burning--shudder), censorship, freedom of expression, and responsibility for same. Such a sticky topic in this age.
Glad you are taking it on.
Now to find that book!!

Penny said...

I have not read this book but I am going to look into it now that you suggested :)

kaye said...

I enjoyed your post very much. I get irritated over groups "banning books" too. I also liked Caite's remarks. At least we live in a country where we still have access to banned books. I'd hate to live in a place where the books were not published. I haven't been reading so I don't know if I'll get to the book this week, but I'll put it on my TBR--that's To Be Read list, I know you said in a post once not to assume everybody knows what an acronymn stands for :)

Dave and Tami said...

Being a librarian, I have to agree with Caite's words on what constitutes a "banned" book. I am entrusted with tax dollars to purchase materials that our citizens want and will use. There are many controversial books that we do not own. We have not banned them, they simply would not get checked out and would be a waste of money. However, we will procure any book requested by our patrons through the interlibrary loan system - with no discrimination.

From the parent side, however, my view is a bit different. I agree that we should teach our personal religious/political/ethical beliefs at home and not push them to an entire school. I made one complaint to a teacher concerning assigned reading when my kids were in school. I only expressed my concern that the concepts in the book were too advanced for the grade level. I did not ask that the book be banned - just reconsidered for older children. But, my son read it, loved it and was not bothered by any of my concerns. Shows you what I know. :)

Margot said...

This has been a great topic, Molly. I've enjoyed your post and the wide opinions shared in the comments.

As a book lover and a mom I struggled with subject numerous times. In the end, if my child strongly desired to read a book I disapproved of, I'd letter them read it but I read it at the same time. My kids hardly ever asked for books that were inappropriate even though at the time I disagreed. I learned they had advanced beyond my thinking. They turned out to have very sophisticated tastes in literature and are now extremely well read - better read than their mom. (I'm proud of that.)

I downloaded a copy of Handmaids Tale to my Kindle. I will also confess that I ordered a copy of the Cliff Notes that go with it.

otin said...

I hate when books get banned! It is so ridiculous!