Banned Books Week is an annual happening that celebrates the First Amendment freedom to get your hands on a book, whether for information or a good story. BBW also points up the dangers and insanities of censorship. I selected my Top 10 from the banned-books list of 2007-08 (pdf) because they were targeted for homosexual content. In alphabetical order, they are:
- AND TANGO MAKES THREE, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Simon & Schuster). Challenged at the Lodi County Public Library in California because "it's a homosexual story line that has been sugarcoated with cute penguins."
- BLACK BOY by Richard Wright (Harper). Challenged in the Howell, Mich. high school because of "strong sexual content." Reviewed by county law enforcement to see whether laws against distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors had been violated.
- THE CHOCOLATE WAR, by Robert Cormier (Dell; Pantheon) Challenged at the Harford County High School in MD because it is "peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence."
- FALLEN ANGELS, by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic). Challenged at Chinquapin Elementary School in Duplin County, MC because it "is littered with hundreds of expletives, including racial epithets and slang terms for homosexuals."
- KAFFIR BOY by Mark Mathabane (NAL). Banned from the Burlingame (CA) Intermediate School because of "two graphic paragraphs describing men preparing to engage in anal sex with young boys."
The list continues after the jump.
- THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini (Bloomsbury). Challenged in Freedom (!) High School in Morganton, NC because it "depicts a sodomy rape in graphic detail and uses vulgar language."
- KING & KING by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (Tricycle Press) Subject: gay marriage. Challenged at a Lexington, MA grade school because "by presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they're trying to indoctrinage our children."
- RAINBOW BOYS by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster). Challenged in the Webster, NY Central School District because of "explicit sexual content."
- RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin) Challenged in the Howell, Mich. high school because of "strong sexual content" and alleged to be in violation of local laws prohibiting distribution of sexually explicit material to minors.
- THE WHOLE LESBIAN SEX BOOK, by Felice Newman (Cleis Press). Banned from the Bentonville, Ark. Public Library and the city fined $20,000 under Arkansas obscenity law. The library was accused of following "an immoral social agenda."
"Challenged" means that a big local kerfuffle happened, following which the book was put back on the shelf and kept available in some way. "Banned" means that local politicking got a book off the shelf for good. In some cases, the school or library is actually investigated by local law enforcement for having allegedly broken local censorship laws. It may surprise readers to know that how strict local or state laws can be, because of the religious right's influence on whether minors can have access to certain materials.
My picks range from current Amazon top-sellers to classics like Richard Wright's Black Boy. Bookburners often have long-time smouldering grudges against certain classics, like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and keep them on the list year after year.
The process of challenging and banning books, in both public libraries and K-12 schools across the country, is very revealing about the "moral" or "ethical" quirks that can spark little groups of locals into a frenzy of lobbying. A surprising number of parents want to censor books because of what they see as "blasphemy," or "the occult." Others want books off the shelf simply because they object to any slang and profanity. One book was challenged because of just two cuss words in it. Two books about Cuba were challenged because a few people thought the author's views on that country were too liberal.
Nor is every book-burner a conservative. Some pacifist liberals want books sent to the dumpster because violence, war, bombs and soldiers are mentioned. The banned-books list of 2007-08 lists every one of Rowling's Harry Potter books, because they are the latest and biggest target of the anti-occult faction.
What Can We Do?
How can we fight book-banning? Buy books that are challenged. Spread them around. Give them to friends and family, or people who need to read them. Donate them to public libraries. Today library budgets are so drastically cut that often a public library can't even afford to buy new titles.
And please don't buy used books -- publishers and authors don't get paid a penny of used-book sales. Controversial publishers and authors will survive only if they are supported not only politically but economically. Book banning hurts sales and can even drive a small press into bankruptcy -- which is just what the book-burners want.
Buy from your local independent bookstore, if you can. If there is no indie bookstore within reasonable driving distance of your home, then by all means buy from a chain store. Or buy online from Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, where you can get good discounts on new books.
Today Americans buy fewer and fewer books -- and that includes LGBT Americans, who buy only a fraction of what they bought 20 years ago. The gay publishing industry is experiencing a lethal squeeze because of slumping sales...and because many of our own media no longer pay much attention to LGBT books and authors. Instead they focus on movies, TV, tabloid celebrities and politics.
Last but not least, shout out for free speech in local censorship fights -- even those involving non-LGBT books. Often the bookburners win simply because they are the biggest and loudest faction.
Take it from an author whose novel THE FRONT RUNNER has been challenged on and off since the 1970s. LGBT books got onto the world map because people bought them and supported them. They will stay on that map only if enough of us keep on buying them and supporting them.
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Assn. , the American Booksellers Association and several other book-friendly organizations. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.