Sunday, September 20, 2009

Banned Books Books

Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds, Revised Ed. by Dawn B. Sova (2006), New York: Facts On File.

This is not the kind of book one sits and reads, but it is a quite useful reference guide. This volume is part of a series of four. The other three volumes address literature suppressed on the grounds of politics, religion, and sex. The four volumes together document censorship and attempted censorship of some 450 works.

The present volume describes the suppression on social grounds of 115 titles. Most of the volume is made up of short descriptions of each title, including a synopsis of each book's content and a summary of the major censorship attempts against it. A few key references to additional information on each book, or the debate about the book, appear with each synopsis. There is no general description of the theory or legalities of censorship.

Leafing through this volume, one is struck by how utterly ridiculous many challenges are. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Hesse's Steppenwolf? Morris's The Naked Ape? Another detail that leaps from the pages is how rarely book challenges succeed.

It turns out that four of the books on the Maziarka List are discussed in this volume, a fifth in one of the companion volumes. It also turns out that I've reviewed each of them here on this blog, although I'm not sure how, since I didn't open Banned Books until well after those reviews. The five are listed below; clicking on the title will bring up the review I've previously written.

Am I Blue. A dust-up in Solon, Iowa, in 2004. Parents objected to the use of the book in a middle school classroom, making the usual claims that it "promotes homosexuality" and "undermines the beliefs and teachings of our faith." The school board agreed to inform parents more thoroughly about controversial books used in the curriculum, but the book was retained.

Annie on my Mind. Sova writes, "The novel has frequently been attacked on the grounds that it promotes, idealizes or encourages homosexuality. Challengers who have not read the book mistakenly charge that it contains explicit sex." The book has been challenged and sometimes removed from a number of school and public libraries, and almost always returned. Infamously, it was burned in Kansas City, and the attempt by the Olathe, Kansas, school board to remove the book was overturned by the US district court.

Baby Be-Bop Of several attempts to suppress this book, the most topical is the one that took place in 1998 and 1999 in the Barron Area School District of Wisconsin. Responding to a parent's challenge, the district put together a review committee, which wound up recommending that the book be retained. As has happened in so many other cases, the board overrode the committee's recommendation, and removed Baby Be-Bop and several other books from the school library. Some parents sued, with the help of the ACLU. As has also happened in many cases, it became apparent during the court proceedings that censorship wasn't going to be permitted, and the board wisely chose to settle the case before the court made a final decision. Baby Be-Bop and the other books were returned to the high school library.

Heather Has Two Mommies A frequently challenged book, it has been removed, stolen, re-shelved, restricted, and subjected to any number of indignities at many libraries throughout the U.S. One of the more common complaints is that its "message is that homosexuality is okay." It has often, but not always, wound up back in its original library location. In Georgia, in 1993, one state legislator actually grumbled about amending the state constitution to prevent tax dollars being spent on books that "promote homosexuality, pedophilia or sado-masochism," but took no action. The controversy faded quietly away.

It's Perfectly Normal is listed in the companion volume, Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds.   The author of this volume describes at least two challenges to It's Perfectly Normal that resulted in some access restrictions, but no permanent removal.  The description of 1999 events surrounding the Placer County (California) public library reads like a play book for recent debate in West Bend, WI:
“The books that are sexually explicit or contain sexual education content should be placed behind the counter with only full, unrestricted access to adults. We must uphold community standards, and make the libraries safe once again for children.”

After the library board voted on June 29, 1999, not to restrict access to materials that certain members of the community viewed as sexually explicit or profane, the Auburn Journal reported that more than 50 people representing a newly formed group called Citizens for Safe Libraries assembled to protest on the library lawn. They demanded that the Placer County Library Board rescind the decision and threatened to call upon the Placer County Board of Supervisors to reverse the ruling of the library board. Their attempts were unsuccessful.
A lot of confusion and acrimony in West Bend could have been prevented, if Maziarka and the WBC4SL had just bothered to do some homework before starting this mess.


  1. making the usual claims that it "promotes homosexuality" and "undermines the beliefs and teachings of our faith.

    By that logic Ginny should want any book with murder in it banned, right? And adultry? And...

  2. Logic is not a tool one can use to predict the wants or actions of Ms. M. As a group, though, book banners often have a bizarre obsession with sex and sexuality, and are committed to the idiotic myth that forced innocence and ignorance turns children into healthy adults.