The last week of September is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. I used to have a pin on my backpack that said, "Everything I need to know in life I learned from reading banned books," so I am all about this holiday. Anytime people tell me not to read something, well, now I HAVE to check it out! Something I'm not supposed to see? Double helpings, please!
However, the ALA recently published this PDF of the most banned and challenged books of 2008 and 2009, and all I can say is that the list is illuminating for being--well, rather dull.
For one, "Catcher in the Rye"? Talk about a golden oldie. Two things surprise me about this, the first being that people are still bothering to challenge this book. The battle was lost on that one as soon as "Catcher" appeared in a Mel Gibson movie. Popular cultural saturation point reached. Any "Grand Theft Auto" commercial has more questionable material readily available to the average teenager than this book, at least according to my Wikipedia search, since I haven't actually read it.
Which leads me to my second point: is any poor schoolchild still expected to read this thing? I'll read most anything I can get my hands on, including the Spanish-language advertisements on the C train, but even I put the book down after 20 pages. Talk about your spoiled-whiny-white-male yawnfest. I object to books like "Catcher," and "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac, because they portray protagonists that seek freedom at the expense of others, not because they are trapped--they could never be trapped the same way a woman or a minority was in the 1950s--but because they are simply bored. I'm not the only one who feels this way about "Catcher" (or "On the Road"; one of my fellow writer friends wants to fly to France, exhume Kerouac's body, and punch him in the face). Schoolteachers are having a difficult time getting their students interested in the book, finding it's protagonist whiny, selfish, and self-absorbed. In other words, get a life, Holden Caulfield. Your 1950s alienation has nothing on a generation that blows up condoms to use as birthday balloons. (What, they didn't do that in your middle school?)
"Joy of Sex," "Lesbian Kama Sutra," "Joy of Gay Sex"--what are these even doing in school libraries? Moving on.
"The Bluest Eye," "The Lovely Bones," "Girl, Interrupted," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Color Purple"--okay, now we're getting to the meatier selections. It's no coincidence that all of the above books grapple with issues of sex, sexuality, and/or racial identity. I think many people don't want children reading books about these topics because they believe that children are unaware of sex, sexuality, and race. This is just wrong. Newsweek says babies as young as six months recognize and make judgments based on skin color. And anyone who has spent time around a two-year-old boy knows that HE knows all about his privates. It's understandably uncomfortable to talk about these topics in a classroom, but I think the long-term repercussions of silence far outweigh the momentary discomforts.
Of course, I'm not in front of a bunch of 13-year-olds who just read a chapter on performing oral sex in a mental hospital, so who am I to judge?