Welcome to my annual rant on censorship. Banned Book week is celebrated the last full week of September each year. Founded in 1982 by First Amendment Activist, Judith Krug, it's goal is to highlight how important our freedom of speech and freedom of the press is to every American under the First Amendment. It's now sponsored by the American Library Association and the Center for Books in the Library of Congress.
Conservative and religious groups voice their strong opinions, but the number one group(s) who challenge books are parents and School Board members. Each year, PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books in School) releases a list of books that don't meet with their approval. The reasons books are banned aren’t shocking: The top five are sex, profanity, racism, the occult and homosexuality.
It’s every parent’s right to monitor what their children read and decide what literature they deem inappropriate. I have no problem with that. I understand children are different. Personally, I've always loved good edge of your seat mystery and ghost stories and by the time I was twelve had found myself a horror fan. My friends, not so much.
But the question is, do those groups have the right to take certain books off library or bookstore shelves making it unavailable to the general population?
This year's theme is Diversity. The top ten challenged books for 2015-2016 is here. The characters in most of these books are either: transgender, Muslim, autistic, gay/lesbian, etc., all perfectly fine members of our diverse society, but make certain groups of people uncomfortable. So instead of talking to their children about it, they'd rather remove all traces of anyone different, which of course, they think is best.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon is about an autistic boy who tries to solve the mystery of his neighbor's dead dog. I read it when it came out in 2003 and loved it. This is one of the most challenged books for 2015 for offensive language, religious viewpoint, profanity, atheism and 'other.'
Also: unsuited for age group. This is the reason I have the most trouble with. It's told from a fifteen year old boy's viewpoint, so why shouldn't fifteen year olds read it? Do not think that these groups are just protesting children's book (they are) but a lot of opposition comes from parents of high school kids and even some college students. I'm sorry, but once you're eighteen (if not younger) you have the right to decide what you want to read. Example, in 2006, Texas, parents of a sophomore girl, worked hard to get Fahrenheit 451 off the shelves at the high school library and forbid her to read it "for the filth" that was included. Did they realize it was a story about book burning and censorship, everything they seem to agree with? Who knows, but that's a different post.
I'm sure you can guess quite a few of the Challenged Books. Fifty Shades of Gray. Plenty of classics, like Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even The Bible.
It's always fascinating to me to read over the list and discover that so many people feel that if they are offended, then everyone should be offended and it shouldn't be read. But that's not the way America works. There are genres I don't particularly care for and don't read, but I would never ever think I had the right to tell someone else what they could or couldn't read. And neither should anyone else.
Another goal of Banned Book Week is to encourage people to read books the closed minded want shut. It may be a classic you've never read, or a favorite you haven't picked up in years. Find the list here.
Through the years, I've read most on the list, but this year I'm going to read one that I haven't and always wanted to. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I've seen the movie and read excerpts, but never read the entire book. Which would have been hard to do, since the story was first published in a British magazine in 1891 and the publisher took out over 500 words without Mr. Wilde's permission or knowledge. Then Mr. Wilde added chapters and it became a novel. Once again, the publisher removed chapters and demanded Mr. Wilde change wording, etc. I read in one place that by 1930 The Picture of Dorian Gray was banned in the United States and Europe. But I haven't been able to confirm that. You can read the full article here.
Good news! In 2011, after being "condemned in the British press over 130 years ago as 'vulgar, 'unclean,' 'poisonous and 'discreditable,' an uncensored version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray has finally been published" by Harvard University Press.
My feelings on censorship are across the board for the entire field of the arts. Paintings, statues, music, TV, movies, and books. If you don't like it, don't watch it, read it, look at it or listen to it and leave the rest of us to make the decision for ourselves and our own children.
What do you think? Do parents, religious groups, conservative groups and school boards have the right to censor what you or your child reads and even what sits on the public library shelves?