Saturday, May 14, 2011

Banned Books

Every year the American Library Association, or ALA, releases their list of the most banned or challenged books for that particular year. A book is considered challenged if someone at a school or public library completes the necessary forms to file an official complaint due to objections over subject matter, theme, or content. Just because a book receives a large volume of written complaints, it does not necessarily mean that the book would be removed since that decision ultimately rests with the local authorities that govern the library.

The ALA reports that the majority of complaints they receive every year are due to a work being “sexually explicit” or containing “inappropriate sexual innuendos.” Such phrases have been used to challenge everything from The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill A Mockingbird to the Twilight series and Judy Bloom novels. I must admit that I find most of the complaints ridiculous as I have read a great number of the books filed under this banner and most of them wouldn’t be salacious enough to make an episode of Basketball Wives. In other words, these books provide the exact same information offered by the goateed 5th grader on the school bus except the books have the added benefit of serviceable grammar.

Apparently the most challenged book of 2010 was And Tango Makes Three; a children’s book about two male penguins at a zoo that raise a baby penguin named Tango. The book was published in 2005 and is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male Chinstrap penguins residing at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The two “paired” and were given another couple’s egg which they successfully raised together. The book’s parallels to same-sex adoptions in human couples caused a firestorm about whether the book was “indoctrinating” children with a devious “political agenda.”

Conservative powerhouse Focus on the Family even released a statement indicating that Silo the penguin was not actually gay in real life since he later matted with a female named “Scrappy.” Despite Focus’s investigative journalism, officials have been unable to determine whether Silo actually “changed teams” or was simply experimenting while away from his home enclosure. Regardless of Silo’s orientation, the book brings up a larger issue concerning censorship. At what point does a book become so detrimental to society that it must be banned from public or school libraries?

For some perspective, we can look back at the single most challenged book series of the 21st century: Harry Potter. J.K Rowling’s series about a young wizard was the single most protested work of literature in any genre according to the ALA because of its perceived association with “witchcraft and Satanism.” The books faced legal challenges in Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan, Ontario, and even the author’s native England. In 2002, the United Arab Emirates banned Harry Potter books from all private schools.

This controversy is all relative of course since John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men once suffered the same fate and is now required reading by many school systems. Other classics that have topped the list include Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. Several literary giants have found themselves on the receiving end of ALA complaints over the years:
  • George Orwell made the list several times because he was feared to be a communist.
  • Ernest Hemingway was accused of writing “sex novels.”
  • William Faulkner made the list because he “used the Lord’s name in vain” and seemed to question the existence of God.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s books were burned at a Protestant church in New Mexico in 2001 for being “satanic.”
While there is something to be said for making sure a copy of Letters to Penthouse 5 doesn’t find itself nestled between Dr. Seuss books in the kids section, I am not convinced that the Harry Potter series is the single greatest literary threat to our children’s moral fabric. Are there really that many middle school kids renouncing their Judeo-Christian heritage after finishing The Sorcerer’s Stone? Are these parents discovering that little Timmy suddenly develops an unhealthy interest in pentagrams and ritualistic sacrifice after visiting the J.K Rowling display at the local library?

If you don’t want your child reading Lord of the Rings because it involves wizards, hobbits, and nefarious jewelry that is your decision to make as a parent, but this is still America and it is unreasonable for you to control my child’s access to a book that you do not want your child to read; especially when that book was purchased with taxpayer funds. However, I am impressed that these parents visit the library enough to bother filling out an ALA complaint. I have long suspected the majority of the American public views the library only as a place for homeless men to pee.

Ironically, it appears that making the ALA complaint list increases sales by generating notoriety. It is for that reason I have decided to pen my first novel. It is a children’s book about a foul-mouthed atheistic lesbian that illegally enters America from Mexico in order to make contact with her long-lost son. The plot takes a real turn when she discovers that he is a small-time arms dealer working as an orderly in a Palestinian-funded abortion clinic in rural Mississippi. It will be titled “If Jesus Ain’t In Stock, I’ll Just Take a Snickers.”


  1. Love this! haha

    You are a great writer.

  2. That last paragraph is work of comedic genius. On the whole it seems like the only groups that complain about books are religious in nature. You wrote that Harry Potter was protested because of its perceived association with “witchcraft and Satanism.” So let me get this right...a group which prides itself in a book of myths and fairytale is pissed because another book of myths and fairtales is competing with it. LA DE FREAKING LA!!!

    Look forward to your next post.

  3. Exceptional MediocrityMay 12, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Thanks for the kind words and for reading.

  4. I would love to read a book written by you. It would be well thought out, current, comedic, correct enough in grammar that one could enjoy the read AND I'm sure the story line would be original.
    Your musings are always appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed.

  5. Exceptional MediocrityMay 14, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    My apologies to all who commented on the original post. Blogger deleted my post and all comments. Perhaps the last paragraph went too far.....

  6. I have a question. Have you ever wondered what happens when its time for a womans annual mammogram...and she has implants? I've had those facades for torture and let me tell you! There is no MAN alive that would willing slap his business up on a cold steel plate and wait for the descending SEE THROUGH! plate to come down and smash it flat. I mean flat as in the diameter of your pinkie finger flat.
    How do women w/implants do it? Wouldn't they POP? Or at th very least, refuse to go back to their original shape? Just thought I'd ask.

  7. Exceptional MediocrityMay 27, 2011 at 10:05 AM


    That is an interesting question and I can honestly say that I have never pondered that question since I am blessedly ignorant concerning the logistics of a mammogram. The device sounds eerily similar to a grilled-cheese press a friend of mine has and I have no idea if "enhanced items" would return to their original form.

    Thanks for the question!


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