I do have another post coming up later on today, but I thought I'd draw your attention to the fact that from September 21st - September 27th, it's Banned Books Week in the U.S.A.
Currently, there are no banned books in Ireland. A "book ban" only lasts 12 years, and no books have been banned in the last 12 years. This, interestingly, isn't because the law has changed - it's because nobody is complaining anymore. "Morals have changed," said a spokesperson for the Censorship of Publications Board. "What was considered obscene in the 1940s is very different to what is considered obscene today." [source]
A book can be prohibited in Ireland for one of two reasons:
1. They are indecent or obscene.
2. They advocate the procurement of abortion or miscarriage or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of such procurement.
I'm not going to get into an abortion debate here, but isn't it typical of Ireland to have abortion right up there alongside indecency and obscenity? This all still stands today, by the way. If enough people wanted to complain about a publication, all (5) members of the Board would have to read it and could pass a law to prohibit it.
In the U.S.A, people are still a little more vocal with their complaints. Here's a look at the ten most challenged publications of 2013, with the reasons below.
The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey: Offensive language, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Offensive language, sexually explicit, violence, unsuitable for age group.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, masturbation, unsuitable for age group.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Religious viewpoint, unsuitable for age group.
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Looking for Alaska by John Green: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya: Occult, satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuitable for age group.
The Bone series by Jeff Smith: Political viewpoint, racism, violence, unsuitable for age group.
A couple of these did surprise me - in particular, the reasons. I had no issue with the nudity or sexual content in Fifty Shades of Grey, for example. I did have a problem with the romanticization of a dangerously controlling, unhealthy relationship - but if people choose to read it, that's up to them. None of these books are currently banned, but they were reported hundreds of times in 2013. [Source]
Banned Books Week is a little more serious than just giving two fingers to the Establishment while reading Animal Farm on the bus. It was founded in 1982 by activist Judith Krug. It encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, and promotes intellectual freedom in schools, libraries and bookstores. It's goal is "to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society."
Amnesty International also celebrates Banned Books Week by drawing attention to individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read." You can read about the 2014 cases here. It makes for scary reading.
|Image copyright Dav Pilkey|
Some of the more surprising (to me, anyway) books to be banned over the years include:
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Banned in Ireland in 1932 due to references of sexual promiscuity.
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Banned in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals acting on the same level of complexity as humans.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Banned in Lebanon in 2004 for being offensive to Christianity.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Banned in 1965 in China for its portrayal of early Marxism. The ban was lifted after Seuss' death in 1991.
- The Lonely Girl by Edna O'Brien: Banned in 1962 in Ireland after Archbishop John Charles McQuaid complained personally to Charles Haughey that it was 'particularly bad'.
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson: Banned in South Africa during Apartheid.
In more recent years, campaigns have been launched in hundreds of schools to get books removed from reading lists and/or school libraries - books like The Handmaid's Tale and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in the type of complaints that are submitted - have a look at this section of the PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books In Schools) website. It's an incredibly detailed collection of book quotes and references that people have complained about. If you're a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I bet you a fiver you're thinking of MOO right now. I'm not mocking, I promise - I do believe that if a parent thinks a piece of literature is unsuitable for their underage child, then they have a right to not allow that book in their home. I just don't think that they have the right to tell other parents to follow suit.
This week I'm aiming to read at least one banned book. I've picked The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Will you join me in reading something that was once banned or challenged? There's a great collection of lists on Goodreads here if you need some inspiration.