Banned Book Week 2012

1 Oct

It’s Banned Books Week!

I’ve been in a few conversations recently about censorship that really got me thinking.  In one, I admitted I’m probably a “square.”  I like following the rules.  That said, I believe 100% in the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.  I don’t believe the government or libraries or anyone else should ever block our access to literature.  In fact, I believe we should have more free access to information and the written word.  As cliche as the saying is, knowledge is power.  Books are an incredible source for people looking to gain knowledge but also for those trying to understand themselves and the world around them a little bit better.  Censorship is dangerous to our well being.

The other conversation I had was in regard to ratings for children’s books.  Now, personally, I don’t really think ratings are all that helpful.  I’ve seen PG-13 movies that were more offensive to me than movies rated R.  The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated exposes why this occurs.  This brings me back to literature: the YA books I read as an adolescent were far more scarring than the books I read today.  So many of the books I grew up reading were about teens that had been raped or physically abused or had other terrible things happen to them.  I suppose these were the moral books that were supposed to scare me into being square so bad things didn’t happen to me.  The books I read today may have adult language or themes, but these classics and New York Times bestsellers intended for adult readers are generally milder and less damaging than the books I read when I was younger.  I don’t think ratings on YA books would necessarily change reading habits, and I do believe teens should have free access to the reading material of their choice, but perhaps both parents and young readers should be aware that the YA label can be a bit misleading.

If you’ve never seen HowlBanned Books Week would be a good week to watch it.  The film portrays the true-life events surrounding the obscenity case over City Lights’ Shig Murao and Lawrence Ferlinghetti selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  The book Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression reports on this historical trial, going into more depth.  From the City Lights product page:

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with over 1,000,000 copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending the landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

The collection includes:

* The complete “The Howl Letters” — correspondence between Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and others – with first-person insight into Ginsberg’s thinking and the significance of the poems to the author and his contemporaries.

* Ferlinghetti’s account of hearing “Howl” read at the Six Gallery, of editing the book, and of his court battle to defend its publication.

* A timeline of censorship in the U.S. that places the Howl case in the broader historical context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

* Newspaper reportage, magazine essays, cartoons, photographs, and letters to the editor that illuminate the cultural climate of the mid-1950s, when sexual expression in print was suppressed.

* Excerpts from the trial transcript that show the brilliant criminal lawyer Jake Ehrlich in action.

* ACLU Defense Counsel Albert Bendich’s reflections on the Howl case, and his thoughts about challenges to Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

*A look at how the fight against censorship continues today in new forms. 

Interestingly, it was a conservative judge who saw the value in Ginsberg’s Howl, finding it to have “redeeming social importance.”

Find out more about Banned Books Week here.


5 Responses to “Banned Book Week 2012”

  1. Alicia DeWitt October 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Great post today! I agree about censorship. I think some of the problems we are seeing as a nation are due to a lack of education, knowledge and access to a diversity of ideas. Which is ironic sense we live in an age of worldwide media. Even though I am a Christian I believe that if we start (I say start but it has been going on for a long time) censoring the written word from our schools because of moral, religious, or similar reasons our children are going to grow up unable to critically think about their world.

    I also agree about the YA literature also. It is a problem we have in our house with a precocious 11 year old who reads well above her grade level. She reads so many books there is no way I can pre-screen all of them for her. I rely heavily on recommendations from other parents and parental review websites, but still sometimes a book I think will be fine slips through the cracks. I am lucky that my daughter has a good relationship with me and when she finds something questionable in a book (like a sexual scene in a Princess Diaries book) she brings it to me. I definitely don’t think censorship is the answer, but I wish there was a little more transparency so I knew what my daughter was reading.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos October 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

      Yes, exactly, and those Princess Diaries books are intended for a young audience. By the time you’re actually a young adult, you find YA books childish. When I was in middle school, I was reading all the true crime books and biographies my mother took out of the library for herself.

  2. A.M.B. October 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Very thoughtful post. I am opposed to censorship to the point that I am also wary of ratings on YA and children’s books. Researchers at BYU tried to make the case for such ratings in a publication in May (published in Mass Communication and Society), but what was clear from their article was how biased any rating would be. They were clearly far more sensitive to profanity (including “potty words”) than I would be, and I would worry that even a warning label on books would dissuade parents and schools from allowing children to reading otherwise great literature. As for Judge Horn, my impression is that he was a unique judge who was able to set aside his personal beliefs and apply Supreme Court precedent. That’s very rare today, as the courts have become far more political.

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos October 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

      Yes! That’s basically my reasoning why ratings don’t work, and yet I find I’m more suspicious of YA content than classic novels. The documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” though it clearly had its own agenda as well, showed that ratings sometimes have more to do with “offensive” language than offensive content and also that consensual romantic scenes sometimes get rated R while violence and murder don’t always.

      • A.M.B. October 1, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

        So true. The MPAA ratings are often arbitrary and discriminatory, and I imagine book ratings would be similar. Why give school districts an obvious excuse for removing books from library shelves?

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