Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Monday, September 22, 2003

Celebrate Banned Books--Read Something Subversive

listening to: 'Come to My Window' by Melissa Etheridge; 'Send Your Love' by Sting; 'White Flag' by Dido
feeling: Better, but frustrated with stupid people and feeling slightly subversive myself at the moment

My favourite quote on book banning/burning:
Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” (German: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.”)—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

2003 BBW logo Open Your Mind to a Banned Book

100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000

Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2002

A few years ago I set up a display around the tops of my bookshelves at work of books that had been banned or challenged. Books like Shel Silverstein's. Harry Potter. The Bible. It caught people well. Not surprisingly, I suppose, most came from my house, but some came from our kid's book area in recreational therapy, too.

People sometimes have this idea that librarians are either this old wizened biddies who won't let them have anything or brainless people who think kids should be surfing porn online. The reality is in between. There are some books that we may place out of the kids area or even the general reading area but still have available for people if they ask for it. Librarians are great in terms of determining target audience. There are a lot of YA (Young Adult) items that are perfectly fine for a teen that might be too much for a much younger kid. Still, in the end, I think that if a kid can read at the comprehension needed and the parent agrees that it's okay, there's no reason to pull the 'you're too young for that'. I remember being upset when I was in the Kern County library on Edwards AFB and the librarian wouldn't let me check out any books from the adult section, especially the John Jakes' series The Bastard, which was, after all, on TV at the time. Okay. I was 12. But I was reading at a college level, loved historical fiction, and most sex stuff went right over my head at that age. Hell, I didn't even catch the gay material in Mary Renault's The Bull from the Sea when I was a kid, and spent a good deal of my life thinking of it as a children's book. Granted, I never got around to reading Jakes' when I was older. Maybe they were just horrendous. But personally speaking, I'd rather have my kids read about sex than see lots of gratuitious violence in videogames or on TV.

But people also ignore the fact that sometimes things are there for a reason. And they make arguments that you just wonder if they've ever read the thing. Huckleberry Finn racist? Hello? Did they miss the whole anti-slavery thing? I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was based on real-life experiences--including sexual assault. Shouldn't teens read about real life rather than a saccharine treacle that they're told is life? Little Black Sambo? Hello, people. It's about INDIA. Sigh. Even Amazon has this children's classic put under African-American in its subject, even though it was written by a Scottish woman in 1899 who had lived in India for 30 years about a very clever boy who was INDIAN--not African. Not American. Not Southern Black, although I think a lot of the reason it was maligned was because it was misunderstood by Americans, who, being somewhat ethnocentric, seem to think every description of black must be African-American (and on the flip side, that anyone who is, say, from Nigeria, should be polically speaking, called African-American even if they're not American--is Dave Matthews African-American? He's from South Africa, but also American. Or what do you call someone bi-racial? I once talked to a parent whose son called himself 'negrite'--I'm sure that would set some people off, but it worked for him...not to mention the tendency for any little bit of African blood to make you Black in our society and all the sub-differences withing Black Culture based on lightness of skin, and, oh, I'll stop now, the whole concept of ethnicity and race could fill up many blog entires, except to say I'm not white, I'm really rather pink, and Anglo-Celtic with a smidgeon of Cherokee and Blackfoot, thank you very much). *I am now putting my head down on my keyboard out of frustration over how badly people have treated Little Black Sambo.* I grew up with that book (actually, I also had the story on 45 record) and even as a small child *growing up in the South* I got that one. And yet I still grew up as a progressive bleeding heart liberal who nevertheless thinks political correctness is silly and that people should just be accepted for who they are, and not what other people think they are.

What gets me, too, are that the things that are truly disturbing or subversive are ignored. I would never buy Flowers in the Attic or other VC Andrews' books for a young teen girl, even though they're considered teen fiction. They're pretty much the same stories over and over with disturbed families and lots of incest. Maybe an older teen. One librarian list I subscribe to mentioned a certain set of books that will remain nameless (because I don't want you all running out and trying to ban a great set of fantasy books) as truly subversively anti-religious, although for the rest of you, here's a hint...they're fantasy, children's books, listed on my favourites to the left, and not Harry Potter and if you've read them you'll recognise what I'm talking about immediately. However, the consensus is that they don't make the list because they're just too damn subtle for most rabid book banners to get. Note to self: when writing subversive children's books, avoid all mention of magic, wizards, magic, sex, etc. but feel free to mention Metatron. It's Biblical. :)

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