Thursday, October 02, 2008

books to ban

I was perusing the list of most commonly challenged books in the U.S. on Wikipedia and noted that "James and the Giant Peach" was number 56 on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books of the 1990s.

I'm sorry, but did I miss something when I read that book? It's like any number of other children's books, particularly by Roald Dahl. Boy has a miserable life. Someone intervenes, and the boy is able to escape his misery. He goes on an adventure, where there are dangers, but his quick mind and resourcefulness save both him and his companions. What's wrong with that?

Perhaps it is the anti-rhino views expressed by the author.

Hemingway made the list three times, and Mark Twain twice. I could be mistaken, but I expect that's because Twain uses the N-word, which use has overshadowed the remarkably nonracist sentiments expressed in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" particularly; and because Hemingway often writes about wounded men unable to have sex.

What I did find striking is the books that didn't show up, at least when I casually skimmed the list. "Mein Kampf," for instance.

It floors me when people want to ban books. I haven't read all the books on that list, but I've read a good deal of them, and none of them seemed remotely worthy of being banned. I can't even see them as objectionable. Many of these are books that I would consider "must-reads." Many others fall under "Yeah, I really ought to read that."

I read "Old Yeller" to Evangeline when she was in first or second grade; and this past summer we were cracking up together over "The Canterbury Tales." "All's Quiet on the Western Front" might be a little heavy for her as a bedtime story, but that's more of an age-appropriate issue, sort of like not letting her watch "Blazing Saddles" or read "Lord of the Flies" until she's older.

Maybe part of the issue is ambiguity in what the ALA means by "banned books." There's banning in the sense that firemen come to your house and douse your private library with kerosense, and there's banning in the sense of "I don't want that in my house" or "You shouldn't read that." Perhaps "banning" is too strong a word for that sense, but in any event I can't see telling people not to read most of these books either.

I don't think there's a book in existence that deserves to be destroyed, with the possible exception of "Jane Eyre."

Copyright © 2008 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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