Banned

 

banned books week
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This week is Banned Books Week.  This is a subject near and dear to my liberal, free-spirited heart and Nicole has chosen to talk about it so I am delighted to join in the conversation.

Banned Books Week is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association to do a couple of things: make us aware of books that have been banned in the past, for various reasons, and in doing so, spark an interest in and conversation about the idea of censorship.

I despise censorship. I want to be upfront about that from the start. You know how Nicole and Joe love, love, love the Second Amendment?  Well, that’s how I am about the First one.

I was raised by a very religious mother who, fortunately for me, was pretty liberal when it came to reading material. I couldn’t wear slacks, and I couldn’t go to movies, but she didn’t really pay much attention to what I read. And I was a book worm.

When I was about 11, my grandfather gave me a book.  It was a large one-volume collection of the works of Mark Twain. It has really thin pages, sort of like a Bible. I loved it. I still love it, because I still have it. I was going to take a photo of it, but we’re remodeling and my books are stored away in boxes for the moment.

Anyway, I am quite sure that my grandfather never read the book. I know for certain my mother never did. They just saw “Mark Twain” and thought Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer and that was as far as they thought.

Those novels, of course, were included in the book, but so was a story called The Mysterious Stranger. If you are unfamiliar with the work, please click on the link and scroll down to the several quoted paragraphs toward the end of the piece.

mysterious stranger

My grandfather and my mother totally forgot (or didn’t know) that Mark Twain was a cynic and an atheist.

And I read every word of that book, more than once. Please imagine a child of about 11, taught that the Bible is totally true and Jesus is totally real, reading that quote from The Mysterious Stranger after being totally invested in the story. It had a profound impact on me. I’ve never forgotten my horror and it’s been about 55 years.

My point here is this: Just because a child has the intellectual capability of reading adult literature, just because she can read the words and understand what is being said, does not mean that the child has the emotional capability of processing the information without some sort of guidance. It wasn’t that Twain was wrong.  I am an atheist (now) and share his views.  The problem was that I was young and I really needed to be able to talk with some adult about the issues raised and I couldn’t.

I didn’t tell my mother about the story.  I knew what would happen if I did. She would have taken the book away from me.  I didn’t want censorship, but I certainly needed conversation and a bit of guidance.

Keep that little anecdote in mind as we continue.

I think I’ve written about this before, but hell, I’m old, and I can repeat myself if I want. When we lived in Alaska, I volunteered at our local library.  Here it is.

library

I was not only a volunteer librarian, but I also was the treasurer. I served in that capacity for much of the time we lived there (about 9 years). So I know a little about how libraries work and how they are funded and how to manage one, albeit a teensy one.

library funding

In Alaska, our little library was funded several ways. Our primary funding was via a state grant, given to us by the legislature every year. We were never exactly sure how much we would get.  It all depended on how much the legislature approved and how many libraries applied for funding.

We were required, as a condition of receiving the funding, to raise a comparable amount from the community. During the time I was there, we experimented with several ideas for fund-raising (our least-favorite thing to do), and came up with a sweepstakes, which has remained in place ever since. They, in fact, are getting ready for it right now.  We sold tickets for $100 a pop, and the ticket served as entry to the party (held at the local community club, complete with food) and the subsequent drawing. Multiple prizes were given away, mostly cash.

The third thing we got in terms of funding was E-Rate. That is a federal program which allowed us to have telephone and internet service at very reduced prices. This facilitated offering computer access to the public.

So, the library was (and still is) funded by community donations, by state grants and by federal dollars.

But nobody told us what books to buy or what to offer and what to do about any of that.

The contents of our library were determined entirely by the library’s board, and I was on that board, so I know how the decisions were made.

Libraries are finite. They are not Amazon. They can’t have every book that has ever been printed in them. Shelf space in a library is valuable space and none of us were ever cavalier about the decision to place a book on the shelf or to remove it.

We used to weed books (and that’s what we called it – “weeding”) about twice a year.  We got boxes, divided the library up in sections and began working. We had come up with criteria to help us make decisions, involving how often the book had been checked out (circulation), whether or not it was considered a classic (subjective, but we had to start someplace), and whether or not we had lots of books on the same subject (repetitiveness). A book that just sat on the shelf doing nothing got removed.

And once all the books that were weeded were in the boxes, we all went through the boxes and pulled out those we didn’t agree with tossing. And then we argued about it, politely.

In the end, a whole pile of books left the library to be donated, were sold for really cheap, or went to the dump.

Every now and then, we got a complaint.  It didn’t happen often, but it did happen.  We actually had a form, if I remember correctly, that people could fill out if they wanted to complain about something, and that included the inclusion (or exclusion) of any book on our shelves. Typically, a complaint would come from a parent who thought that a particular book in the children’s section wasn’t appropriate for one reason or another.

When that happened, we would discuss the issue in the board meeting.  Most of us were very pro-free speech and loathe to do any censoring of any sort (a very common feeling among librarians in general), but we did agree that there should be fairly obvious areas for picture books, for children’s books and for young adult books, so that parents could easily determine which shelves their children were browsing. And what generally happened was that we’d agree to move a particular book from the children’s area to the young adult area.

Our reasoning centered around the issue I raised earlier with my little story about Mark Twain and The Mysterious Stranger.

When I was in the twelfth grade, the principal of the school, Mrs. Polly McKay, called me into her office to have a chat. It seems that the school librarian had reported to Mrs. McKay that I had checked out East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Mrs. McKay felt that the book was too mature for my tender years.

I remember being astonished.

I asked her to please explain to me why, if the book was too mature for me, and I was in the twelfth grade, what the book was doing in the library at all.

She had no answer.

Libraries have to make choices about what to put on their shelves and what to either never buy or remove.  It’s a problem that is perennial and thorny.

libraries
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Here’s another kind of twitchy problem. Somebody in our little community donated the entirety of the Left Behind series to our library.  You wanna see a really shitty series of books?  Get volume one of that series and start reading. I give you about ten minutes. Awful.

And it wasn’t one book. It was a bunch of books. Sixteen of them.  That’s a lot of shelf space for shitty books.

But if we refused them, we’d be accused of religious discrimination. We knew that. We’d also have hurt the feelings of somebody in a very small community.  We had no desire to do that.

So we tolerated them for a while.  They, naturally, due to sheer shittiness, did not circulate worth a damn, and after a year or so, they began to disappear. I hope they are all gone now.

My point here is that nobody made these decisions for us. We met as a board of directors, we got input from the community, and we took a vote.  It was always difficult and we tried very hard to err on the side of free speech.

And the state government, those folks that gave us our grant, and the federal government that furnished us with the E-Rate credit on our telephone and internet access had zero input into any of this. Absolutely none.

album banned books
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From Nicole’s Blessed Little Homestead Facebook page.

Notice that she insists that “the government” bans books. And then she puts up pictures of books that at one time, some place, were banned. The implication is that all book banning is done by the US government. She doesn’t explicitly say that, but she is certainly implying it.

The US government has not banned a book in decades.

And then she tells us to read banned books, because anarchy.

How about reading, period?  How about reading banned books because they contain often-controversial subject matter?  How about making sure that if you allow children to read that sort of stuff, you also provide them with guidance and a bit of conversation?  How about providing children with age-appropriate books, and teaching them to read in the first place (doubtful at the Blessed Little Property)?

Canterbury TalesIf you’re going to complain about literature being banned, and in doing so, you’re going to use hashtags, spell the name correctly.

There are zillions of books in print. It’s not possible for anyone to read all of them. I know, because I have made a valiant effort to do just that and have failed miserably.

And not every book that has been banned should be given a glance or any valuable time to be read at all.

Here’s an example.

Elders of Zion

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a book I’ve never read, except for excerpts. I have no intention of ever reading it.  If you really can’t bear it and want to read it, Google it and you can find a copy online. I am 67 years old. Why would I want to waste my time, as little as I have remaining, to read a piece of shit like that when beautiful books like The Jewel in the Crown (my current Audible book) are out there beckoning to me?  Why would I waste time with a complete fraud of a book that has led to so much anti-Semitic hatred and violence?

Should the book be banned?  I do not think so.  However, I doubt I’d vote to give it library space if I were still sitting on the library board.

challenged books
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Here’s a list of books that were “challenged” (meaning that some library got a complaint about the book) in 2015. Notice how often the reason given is “unsuited for age group”?  That’s exactly what I was talking about in my Twain story. It’s a very subjective issue and a thorny one. And it’s difficult to know what to do about it, if anything at all. One solution involves making sure that parents realize what subject matter is involved in books their children check out.  Does that mean putting a warning sticker on the front?  (That would increase circulation, I bet!)  I don’t know, but I do know that the issues are real and all sides have reasonable concerns.

Just like we had to do at the library, you have to make these kinds of decisions at your house.  What books are you going to spend time reading? Which ones are worth bothering with?  Which ones will you buy in hard copy form and store?  Which ones will you read and discard?  You can’t eat at every restaurant in the world, and you can’t read all the books.

Choose carefully. Choose wisely.

The government does not care what or how you choose.

21 thoughts on “Banned”

  1. Once again, you so clearly and succinctly expressed what was going through my head as I read her latest nonsense. And I would like to challenge her and ask which, if any, of those banned books she has actually read. Alas, I cannot, I have been BANNED from commenting on her page. Kind of funny!

  2. I have a lot of so called banned books on my Kindle. I have a lot of books on my Kindle. I am weeding my paperbacks and hardcovers now so I can consolidate into one bookcase. I never censored my kids reading material, in 8th grade my oldest started reading Tom Clancy, my youngest got into Sweet Valley High. NN should sit down with her older kids and read the Canterbury Tales, translated into Modern English of course. (In college we read it in Olde English). She’s so full of hot gas.

  3. Sally great post. Thank you great post as usual. “Cantabury Tales”. Classic.

    I doubt we will see more book posts. It fell flat with her fan base, not even a dozen likes. All that Amazon linking for zip, zero, nada. She won’t expend any more half baked energy in this project. Her track record on follow through stinks and there nothing in it for her.

  4. Speaking of Left Behind, anybody who has read, or tried to read, the things and been left with a face frozen like Bill the Cat’s O.o may enjoy the ongoing LB takedown at patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist. Come for the commentary, stay for the tangents and pie recipes.

  5. I notice the “Cantabury” post is already gone. Or perhaps I just missed it. Nicole must has realized it was misspelled on her own, we know she doesn’t read any “troll” pages or blogs. *snort*

    I have always been an avid reader. It’s been a delight to sit down with my children and discuss books. Although thus far none have developed an affinity for Joyce or Kafka. If they are reading something that I haven’t read I make the time to read it. It’s important that they have someone to discuss it with immediately if they so desire. It’s unfortunate that you weren’t given that opportunity Sally. Seeing a book through a child or young adult’s eyes can be quite enlightening. I wonder what type of literary discussion goes on in the Naugler household, I can’t imagine there is much.

    The other day she was posting about the reading habits of her two girls. I thought at least one of the was an avid reader, at least that is what she claimed. Yet her posts seem to say quite the opposite, neither girl is a fluent reader. Perhaps I misunderstood. It’s sad to think of young people not being able to read fluently. Reading allows you to immerse yourself in another world. In the Naugler household that would be a needed escape.

    Thanks for the post. Hopefully Nicole enlightens us all on how the government has gone around banning books. I am eagerly waiting to see those congressional decrees. And yes I realize books have been banned but she spouts crap without fully comprehending what she is saying.

  6. Former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West states, “It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much—the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.”

    Doug Archer, librarian and past Chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee said, “…Most books on the annual ALA list of banned and challenged books were “only” challenged, never banned. Even if some were removed from libraries, they are still available for purchase in book stores. Therefore, censorship hasn’t really happened because the government hasn’t banned the books.”

    This is interesting, “Since 2011, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has designated the Wednesday of Banned Books Week as Banned Websites Awareness Day. Their goal is “to bring attention to the overly aggressive filtering of educational and social websites used by students and educators.” In the AASL’s 2012 national longitudinal survey, 94% of respondents said their school used filtering software, with the majority of blocked websites relating to social networking (88%), IM or online chatting (74%), gaming (69%), and video services like YouTube (66%). The AASL’s position is that “the social aspect of learning” is important for students in the 21st century and that many schools go “beyond the requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission in its Child Internet Protection Act.”

    It appears this is to bring awareness to the delicate work of public school librarians, in the preservation of the First Amendment in non censoring of intellectual freedom. And addressing complaints expressed by parents regarding inappropriate reading material at a local school level.

    Of course the complaints are going to vary across each local community and possibly somewhat dependent on the engagement of parents and their interest in the school library’s book depository.

    One thing I have noticed in our high school, that appears to meet a balance, is the Reading Counts program. The students are not restricted to only reading books available in the library. It’s pretty open in allowing the student to select the books of their choice. We’ve gone to the bookstore at times to get books, and also the public library. Mainly because the school library isn’t exactly a voluminous stock and with most every student participating in the Reading Counts program. They are also limited in the number of each book they stock. Popular books are often checked out. My teens and I appreciate all of these sources for books, having sections categorized. It is simpler to find the young adult reading books, more appropriate to their reading skill level and so on.

    What I wonder in Nicole’s promoting Banned Book Week, does she know the history and purpose in the awareness event? Since her children do not go to school, why is it a concern? Or is it her hitching onto the event in the hopes followers will purchase the books via her Amazon link, so she gets some monetary rewards?

  7. She’s trying to sell books she hasn’t read to people with marginal literacy skills so she can make a minuscule profit from Amazon. It’s nice to see her bringing another stellar project to fruition.

    Great post, Sally!

  8. My daughter was in 7th grade and in a class where there was a disproportionate number of class cut-ups and a teacher who was a bit green. So she would read books of her own choosing as well as the assigned books. This went along great until one day her teacher realized she was reading Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and she was a bit spooked. I fielded a phone call where the teacher wanted to know if I knew and she was a bit taken aback when I told her of course I knew – I had bought her the book. I then strongly recommended that she read it and consider the general movies viewed by kids in her class, plus whether or not 12 and 13 year old kids should see the movie “Glory” or not.

    That child is a high school history teacher now. One who wears a tichel to her job with fair regularity because she likes them and in hopes of lively conversations. She’s considering finding an old wimple to underscore the fact that religious dictates regarding women covering themselves are part and parcel of Abrahamaic religions but who defines what is adequate coverage? Why?

  9. Oh, the whole filtering software thing. We had to deal with that as well. I finally put filtering software on the library computers (because the guidelines said we had to), but set it “off” and only turned it “on” if a child was going to use the computer. And to avoid all trouble, we finally made a rule that a minor could not use a computer unless his parent was either present or sent a note with him (or called us) telling us he could.

    The issue of course is protecting the minors from online predators, the same issue that parents have to deal with at home.

  10. One of the things that bugs me about Nicole is her only consistent deal–‘the government (any institution) is oppressive because it could hold me accountable and I am always a victim’. This leads to inconsistencies in her behavior that are just wild. For example, she and her husband have apparently gauged their choices to live a life of poverty, filth, absurd behavior and physical/mental confinement of their children. Yet she makes an argument that the government bans literature that is inconsistent with its ideology even though that literature is readily available. If Nicole gave up some the time she uses for her online grifting efforts and actually read some of the so-called banned classical literature, not only would her spelling and grammar likely improve but she might also get the idea that life off of the compound might be better. She might also discover how dumb it is to support her deadbeat husband and to oppress her children.

    But she won’t read that material. It takes too much time and discipline to do that. It would not result in any instant gratification and it might remind her of uncomfortable ideas. She cannot risk an inkling that she has screwed over herself and her children. She cannot risk an inkling of real empathy for someone else. But, most importantly, she will never endanger her phone/social media addiction.

  11. Someone asked how many of the banned books she has read and what the content was. She said she runs a business and has 11 kids….but hey she runs 5 pages and has Wednesday’s off.

  12. My local public library also has a challenge form. You write the title and author at the top. Then the questions begin:

    1. Have you read this book?

    The last time I spoke to a librarian about it, nobody had ever completed one. (People tend to just steal the ones they don’t like. Righteously, I suppose.)

  13. My son used to work for the LA County Library System at a beach location. He said occasionally people would bring back books ( adult fiction) and said they found religious tracts in them. The people would throw them out but wanted the librarians and staff to know that someone was doing it.
    It happened in all 3 branches that he worked at.

    Well it’s 93º here and we have no a/c so I’m getting a cold non alcoholic drink and will read my kindle while sitting in front of the fan. C ya!

  14. The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.

    Don’t get me wrong, just because the 1st Amendment exists doesn’t mean someone in federal, state, local government or just plain old people haven’t been trying to weasel their way around the right to free speech.

    From the onset our government has passed various anti-obscenity laws, but it wasn’t until 1873 and the Comstock Act that the federal government codified banning “literature it deemed sexually arousing”. The Act not only banned the transportation, mailing or importation of any printed material (even personal letters) which was thought to be lewd and lascivious, but also contained any mention of birth control or contraceptive drug or device. Books banned under the Act included The Decameron, Dor Whom the Bell Tolls and Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

    By the 1920’s and 1930’s the American Civil Liberties Union started challenging the book banning. Under the law they were forced to litigate one book at a time, and the uncensored version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover was finally available in the US in 1960. Really not that long ago if you think of it. Kind of mind blowing.

    Not too unexpected though. The political turmoil and scare tactics of McCarthyism started a shift in America. The Supreme Court starting in the 1950’s decided a series of cases that would pretty much wipe out censorship and book banning across the US except for in the littlest local government shenanigans.

    1957 Butler v Michigan the S. Ct. Ruled that adult reading material did not need to be restricted for the protection of minors. Justice Frankfurter wrote that the Michigan law would limit the entire adult population to reading children’s books.

    Of course in 1957 in Roth v US the court did uphold a ban on obscene material deemed to have no social value or importance. It’s a pretty funny case if you’re into that sort of stuff, and was pretty much set aside by Miller v California in 1973. Miller created a new definition of obscenity. While it set certain guidelines it pretty much wiped out obscenity claims in the US.

    In 1982 Board of Ed v Pico ruled that school boards do not have an absolute right to remove books from school libraries. Justice Brennan wrote “the special characteristics of the school library make that enviornment especially appropriate for the recognition of First Amendment rights of students.” The school board had called the books “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.” The court noted that school boards did have discretion in what books to acquire and that it could reject books that were “pervasively vulgar”.

    Notice what books have not and are not banned by the government, that the constitution and the government does not allow to be banned or censored. Books on politics, government, philosophy, religion, violent books (with the exception of things like a manual on how to build a nuclear bomb due to national security, and thank goodness for it). Just the porno, the sexually obscene once defined as “I know it when I see it”. (Sorry I had to work that in somewhere as, to me, it is one of the funniest Supreme Court statements of all time.). This is a rarity in other countries, a jewel of the American system, this 1st Amendment right to free speech. If I want to read the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf there is no one stopping me, but myself.

  15. Hey thanks Lisa, for this history lesson on preservation of the First Amendment as it applies to banning books by our federal government.

    One only has to look at countries like China to be fully aware of the beauty of our governmental Constitutional First Amendment.

    A little off topic, whereas Facebook has the ability to ban and/or delete posts and profiles deemed offensive, profane and otherwise by another individual. All one needs to do is report it and a Facebook employee will evaluate if it is a violation of the community standards.

    See how that works there. Government=no ban Private entities like Facebook=yes ban

  16. Usually books “inappropriate for age group” aren’t, but Fifty Shades certainly is not appropriate for school-aged readers. The books are often represented as being about consensual sex, yet what passes for consent is a woman who is stalked and too afraid to say no. When teenagers and young adults so often still believe a woman who doesn’t say is implying yes, it’s dangerous to give them books about what counts as rape to inspire them. When I first read those books, I expected some fun, naught reading, and was left with nightmares.

    I rarely get behind school libraries not allowing books, but that trilogy crosses the line. Sure, let public libraries with adult sections stock a copy of each, but they shouldn’t be in school libraries.

  17. When I was all of 15 years old, I found a book in our town library. I tried to check the book out and the librarian said, honey, you need permission from a parent. I asked why and she said well, this is a non christian book. I said, well, I’m a non christian and she said, well, that may be, but your mother needs to come sign and I said, well, my mother is dead and she was. I was really enjoying messing with the librarian who was also the jailer (the jail was down the hall from the library) and the county tax collector. She said, well, you need to get your guardian to come sign. I rode my very outdated bike back two miles to my sister’s house and said, I want to read a book about a cat and the librarian said you had to sign….my sister said, the boys are asleep, forge my signature….I wrote a note: Dear Mrs. Noel. Jeannie is perfectly able to determine what books she wants to read. If she wants to read a book about reincarnation or teenage sex or even adult sex, let her read it. My opinion is that the problems in the world are not due to what a child reads but if a child reads. Sincerely, my sister. I took the note back to the librarian and she called my sister (she could have done that five miles ago, and my sister said, yes, she can read any book she wants). That same year, I checked out a couple of porn books, not for me but for my friend Lou, who was a sex addict, and I read every single anti established religion book I could get my hands on. Mrs. Noel thought I was going to turn out to be a hooker on fifth street or worse, and I guess it surely surprised her when I went on to earn a PhD, who knew all that reading could amount to an advanced degree or three. LOL….seriously, I also allowed my children to read whatever books they wanted but I was always there to talk to them about what they read and the same holds true for my grandchildren. At eight, my granddaughter found The Lottery in my home library and she asked to read it and I said sure but remember if you need to talk….her only comment was…this was fiction, right? I said, yep and she said, cause like drawing lots to get stoned….I said, yeah, brings a new meaning to both drawing and getting stoned…she said, I knew you would have a pun or two. Anyway, books….you know…my masters is in comparative literature and culture studies so I could never approve of book banning, but I do understand the fear that parents have about some books and I suppose if those parents are not active readers and have not bothered to read, for instance Harry Potter, but judge it based on Fox news or that wing nut preacher, well, I get it but my experience as an educator…if you tell a kid they cannot have or read or do something, they will break their necks trying. For real.

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