My initial reaction to Banned Books Week, which is this week, was “oh, this when we remember how we used to ban books back in the 50s.” I went to the Banned Books Week website and found a pamphlet that shows the banned or challenged books, in 2013! Looking over the list, I’m incredulous that books like the Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and Diary of Anne Frank, which a Northville, Michigan middle school try to ban, are still routinely challenged.
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere was temporarily removed by a New Mexico’s high school library because one parent disliked the “inappropriate content.” Neil Gaiman, whose novel American Gods is a personal favorite, had this to say in The Guardian about censoring books with the intention of protecting children:
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
However, most surprising to me was that in Johnson City, NY, two books involving the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were challenged. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter told the story of the Taliban preventing girls from attending school. The Librarian of Basra by the same author, described a librarian attempting to protect books during a U.S. bomb raid.
While I’d like to forget my time in Afghanistan, and as Americans we are mostly successful from blocking the Iraq war from our collective psyche1, we are not doing our children favors by protecting them from learning about these events. In fact, I wish books like Phil Kay’s Redeployment were on reading lists as well as articles like Why we Lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and Today is Better than Tomorrow, both published by Harpers and both written by military officers.
I have a Kafkaesque-loathing towards bureaucracy, but hearing of successful attempts at book-banning makes me consider joining a school board. So yes, censorship is still a thing in the United States. Support your local library and spread the word about Banned Books Week. While you are at it, encourage your library to install Tor, like a Mass. library did to help protect anonymous access to information.
I’m off to write that email to my library.
- I should talk to more Vietnam vets and ask them how they explained that conflict to their kids. My current explanation of Iraq: we thought this dictator had weapons-of-mass-destruction, but weren’t really sure, so we invaded and decimated his country. Turns out, we were wrong, but occupied the country nevertheless for 10 years before abandoning it. ↩