Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week interactive map

This is circulating the blogosphere, but I love it and thought I'd post here.

In honor of Banned Books Week, check out this interactive map where you can see what books have been banned in your area and why.

The map lists a 2008 incident from my city where someone challenged Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying on its use of profanity and some sexual references. I attended a neighboring school district growing up, and was assigned this book in 12th grade. It's a thought-provoking look at what it means to be black, and what it means to be a man. I'm neither, and I loved the book.

To be honest, I don't remember a thing about the sexual references or the profanity, which shows you the kind of impact those particular parts had on me...uh, slim to none. A Lesson Before Dying deserves a place on reading lists at any high school, but especially one as privileged and white as the school in question.

This particular challenge has a good resolution: the principal kept the book and offered an alternative assignment for people who were "offended" by it.

I'm 100 percent against book banning. It's ignorant and sends the worst kind of message to kids. My (obvious) caveat: you wouldn't necessarily give A Lesson Before Dying to a second-grader. But I think 16-18-year-olds are perfectly equipped to handle it.

And finally, a shoutout to lovely Irene Latham, a poet and novelist from my neck of the woods who recently got a taste of book banning.

Her children's novel Leaving Gee's Bend was recently excluded from an elementary school event because the book (which looks fabulous and comes out in January!) contains the word "afterbirth." I wish I were joking. Irene gracefully discusses it in this post.

It seems to me that nearly all of the best books have been banned at some point.

**UPDATE: Check out the fascinating, labyrinthine story of the book bannings and challenges to Laurie Halse Anderson's books on her blog. This post can get you started, but I've been following its links, and links from links, for the past half-hour. It's fascinating. LHA is a gifted award-winning author (I reviewed Wintergirls here) and I love the strong-yet-classy stand she's been taking.

And this vlog by John Green about the challenge to his book, Looking for Alaska, is funny and awesome.

The best takeaway from these stories is that in most cases the challengers and pro-book-banners didn't win. Hooray for free speech!


Dominique said...

I read A Lesson Before Dying in 11th grade. I wasn't offended by it, even though I did come from a school similar to the one you describe. While I remember some instances of sexuality in the book, they only come to mind when I tried to remember then. Any specific instance of profanity escapes me, though there probably was some. Guess what, there's profanity in Harry Potter. And by the age of 16, most kids have figured out that sex played a part in their coming into this world. It's not exactly shocking stuff these days.

Any principle who thinks the concept of sex or the presence of profanity will stun a high school is a principle who probably didn't walk the halls of his own school.

Vivienne said...

I am totally against book banning too. I think we should have the freedom to choose what we read.

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I love to see new people and getting to see what everyone else reads. I have visited yours quite a few times before, but for some reason it seems to have been knocked off my googlereader. So I will have to rectify it.

lotusgirl said...

It amazes me the books that get banned. Some of the loudest voices for banning sometimes come from those who haven't even read the books in question. That sort of thing just kills me.

I read LHA's Speak last year and think it's one that should be more widely read not less.