September 27, 2010

Beware the book


Another Banned Books Week is upon us and that means booksellers and librarians everywhere will be piling up copies of Catcher In The Rye, The Adventures Of Huckleyberry Finn, Ulysses, nearly every Judy Blume title, Harry Potter, and the list goes on and on.

It is easy to become a little cynical of old disputes like the ones that thwarted Ulysses and The Catcher In The Rye. Those books are canonized now and their scandals seem removed by the passage of time and cultural norms.

Every year libraries and bookstores cobble together some semblance of a Banned Books Week display. You know the ones. If on a table, you gather around it and point out to friends the books you’ve read, or you make a mental note of them to yourself. Often they will continue to sit there when you leave.

Don’t deny it. You already have them. They have you on their list of deviants.

This of course brings us to the point of Banned Books Week. It is as much about reminding readers and that strange amorphous entity known as the general public, as it is about selling books: We forget that there are individuals out there that want to ban Twilight and Harry Potter for reasons outside of the literary spectrum. A joke. Sort of. Okay you can go ahead and ban Twilight.

So in the spirit of Banned Books Week’s push to make people aware of the often insane reasons people try (and succeed) to ban books I offer you this sample list from the American Library Association’s website of books that have been banned and the stated reasons (from various schools and libraries) for banning them.

The Top Ten Ludicrous Reasons To Ban A Book
1. Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them. ( A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)
2. It caused a wave of rapes. ( Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights)
3. If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it? ( Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)
4. Tarzan was ˜living in sin” with Jane. ( Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
5. It is a real downer. ( Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)
6. The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol. ( Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)
7. One bunny is white and the other is black and this brainwashes readers into accepting miscegenation. ( The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)
8. It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books. ( Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)
9. A female dog is called a bitch. ( My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)
10. An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children. ( Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle)

I wonder what kind of egregious misconduct a Tao Lin book might induce.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.