Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What bans a book?

No more than a couple of months ago, I finally got around to reading the 1951 classic The Catcher in the Rye. Like many, I'd heard about this novel for a long time. There was one thing though that truly gave it more appeal to me: the controversy. As most also know, the book by J.D. Sallinger has appeared on dozens and dozens of banned book lists across the country...and to this day is still known as one of the most challenged books in the history of literature. If not the most. I probably would have read it anyway at some point. However, it was all the commotion that brought it to me sooner. All to figure out the question of "why".

To that question, I'm still not entirely sure. I'll admit after finishing it from cover to cover it became slightly more obvious of why it's so challenged. There's more swearing in the novel than an episode of South Park. That I could get. A book banned from schools for that, why not? Also the appearance of prostitution, cigarettes, and alcohol may anger a parent or two. Again, that I could get, but why all the hype? Sure it has a curse word every page or two, but why fire a teacher for giving it to students? Why would it convince a reader to kill a member of The Beatles? That I'll never get. Basically, it wasn't so harsh...but it certainly wasn't nothing. It was enough to surprise me when I saw it in the "kids" section at Wall-Mart, but certainly not enough to be forbidden more than a devil-worshipping Bible. That brings me to another question, what exactly gets a book banned?

The answer: not much. If The Catcher in the Rye has done enough to be restricted for multiple years, imagine what an actually horrific book could do. But Sallinger's work isn't the only example of overreacting. I recall back in my school days being sent a list of books we couldn't read. This list was including but not limited to James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Little Red Riding Hood, the Harry Potter series, the Captain Underpants children's series, and others. Most of those I still don't nor ever will undertand why. Potter, of course, has been famously critized for its use of magic. Basically some religious people insist that any magic must come from Satan. Despite the fact the J.K. Rowling identifies herself as Christian. Some have even gone as far as to say that the books specifically mention the devil. I've read the series, and the only real reference to religion is Christmas...and even that's occasionally said to not be religious anymore. It should also be noted that Christmas is celebrated by the main characters too.

The Captain Underpants books, mainly for elementary school kids, are also a good example. They're banned on the grounds that they teach disrespecting authority and anti-school messages. Although really, what novel for a ten year-old is going to be about loving teachers and school anyway? Sure kids imitate what they watch sometimes (or in this case, read), but maybe that's the parents' responsibility and not the author. If you don't want your kids reading books about principals in underwear or teenage wizards, don't let them. Making it a county-wide rule is not neccessary.

So what bans a novel? Swearing is one thing. Other things are mostly just suggestions of any action kids shouldn't do. Also messages of Jesus and demons people might try to pull out of it. The concept of banned books is actually ironic. You'd really think that schools would try to encourage kids to read, rather than put bans on what they can't.

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