Banned On the Run

We’re right in the middle of Banned Books Week, which lasts from September 24 through October 1 this year. And whether you think devoting an entire seven days to books that have been banned—or, more commonly, challenged—is just hype, or disingenuous, or a good excuse for a party, it’s still something worth thinking about. Those of us who were inspired to start drinking after reading A Moveable Feast in eighth grade English class, or to fornicate via a swiped copy of our best friend’s older sister’s Memoirs of a Beatnik, or to smoke whatever we could get our hands on once we’d sampled all those awesome, dead serious anti-drug novels that our parents left nonchalantly on our desks, know that kids will always find what they need to read in order to become citizens of the world, and more power to them. But really, the easier we make it on them the better.

I think most of us know what it’s like to be inspired clandestine readers. But this week the LA Review of Books is letting some challenged writers tell their stories about what it was like on the other side of the equation. So far YA authors Ron Koertge, Ellen Hopkins, and Susan Patron have weighed in, with more to come throughout the week. While the pantheon of banned and challenged books is an honorable one spanning most of the last century—Mark Twain’s short story “Eve’s Diary” was only formally unbanned last week, after 105 years on a Massachusetts library’s blacklist—the most recent offenders have been by and large YA books. If you’re writing for and about teenagers with any kind of credibility, the gloves need to come off, period. Or as Ron Koertge—author of Stoner and Spaz, which I would have read when I was 13 for the title alone—puts it,

S&S was challenged all over the place, often for “advocating drug use and foul language.” I’ll let you in on a closely held YA author’s secret, which is our standard response to this particular concern: Are you fucking kidding me? The novel is, among other things, a cautionary tale. I’m a novelist, okay? Not a polemicist.

But they’re not the only authors who’ve felt the rancor. The Open Road Integrated Media Blog just reposted a letter written by Pat Conroy to the Charleston Gazette in 2007, upon hearing that parents were attempting to suppress two of his novels, Beach Music and Prince of Tides, in a West Virginia high school, in which he waxes appropriately outraged and sly:

The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because bookbanners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works— but writers and English teachers do.

So this week you have full license to go out and read something bad for you—go to it! Flavorwire has some racy suggestions, and if you want to hear other people doing their parts, there’s the really charming assortment of readings on the YouTube Banned Books Read-Out channel. But whatever book you choose, remember that you’re committing a righteous act by picking it up and by making sure that other, more impressionable minds can do the same. As challenged author Ellen Hopkins says,

I steadfastly maintain that the truth isn’t corrosive. But fear is. And truth is a formidable weapon against fear.

(I have one of those Banned Books bracelets and yes, I’m wearing it.)

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3 Comments to Banned On the Run

  1. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    October 14, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Removed from the .school libraries in Morris Manitoba 1982 along with two other books because they violate .the committees guidelines covering excess vulgar language sexual scenes things .concerning moral issues excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult. .Challenged at the Libby MT High School 1983 due to the books contents. Banned from .English classes at the Freeport High School in De Funiak Springs FL 1985 because it is . unacceptable and obscene. Removed from the required reading list of a Medicine Bow WY .Senior High School English class 1986 because of sexual references and profanity in the .book. Banned from a required sophomore English reading list at the Napoleon ND High School . 1987 after parents and the local Knights of Columbus chapter complained about its .profanity and sexual references. Challenged at the Linton-Stockton IN High School 1988 .because the book is blasphemous and undermines morality. Banned from the classrooms in .Boron CA High School 1989 because the book contains profanity.

  2. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    October 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Most people I talk to don t know this happens..Second the list and Banned Book Week give people a chance to really talk about democratic principles and action. If ALA weren t drawing attention to this issue by publishing an annual list do you think libraries would be more likely to cave to advocates who want these books banned?

  3. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    October 18, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    ..Why is this book dangerous? .Since it s publishing in 1971 Go Ask Alice has become one of the most challenged and banned books of all time. Due to its frequent and strong references to sex heavy drug usage and teen pregnancy libraries and schools across the country have banned the novel as it sits at number 23 on the American Library Association ALA 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-2001. While in no way do I agree with banning or restricting the ability to read a book its reasons for being banned are legitimate within the guidelines as it displays extreme profanity and drug use.

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