Thursday, April 30, 2009

Challenging Books

Earlier this month the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom issued its annual list of the "10 most challenged books" of the previous year (found here). The list included books and authors both famous and less well-known, but the list of objections were over the usual issues that frighten those intimidated by the power of knowledge: religion and sex. A "challenge" is defined by the ALA as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

Two of the books on the list figure directly in recent cases. In Burke County, here in Western North Carolina, there's been a long running controversy about The Kite Runner (#9 on the ALA's list) being assigned as high school reading. As a result the Burke County Board of Education is thinking of setting up a new policy which would seem to almost invite parents to protest teachers' choices of assigned reading based on a number of vaguely worded criteria. And two weeks ago four members of the library board in West Bend, Wisconsin were dismissed because they refused to remove controversial books from the library's young adult section, one title being The Perks of Being A Wallflower, which came in at #6 on the ALA's ranking. A national anti-censorship coalition sent a letter of protest to the West Bend Common Council concerning their action. (More on this, and a link to the protest letter, can be found here.)

One positive thing about these controversies: they often increase interest and curiosity concerning the books being challenged and create the exact opposite effect from what the book banners would like to achieve. What has become the most popular book in Burke County over the past couple of years, the one that libraries and bookstores can't keep in stock? The Kite Runner, of course.

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