Category Archives: Banned Books

Banned and challenged books.

Welcome to Banned Books Month! The votes are counted and this month we are attempting to do all three of the books that got the most votes. It should be doable as the books are not large volumes. The third book we will be reading with the group is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.   […]

Welcome to Banned Books Month! The votes are counted and this month we are attempting to do all three of the books that got the most votes. It should be doable as the books are not large volumes. The second book we will be reading with the group is The Wide Sargasso Seas by Jean […]

Welcome to Banned Books Month! The votes are counted and this month we are attempting to do all three of the books that got the most votes. It should be doable as the books are not large volumes. The first book we will be reading with the group is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.   Your […]

The suggestions are in, the poll is open for voting, and you have seven whole days to decide what two books you want to read and discuss with the group next month. What all of these books have in common of course is that they have all been banned and/or challenged at some point, somewhere. […]

Banned Classic Read this for book group this month since we were supporting Banned Books Week, but I was late getting started since I couldn’t find my actual book – and still can’t!  Luckily I had the audio book narrated by Ethan Hawke to fall back on so I listened to that.  I was sure […]

New Jersey school’s decision to remove critically acclaimed collection from library shelves sparks major backlash

American free speech organisations are fighting a decision by a New Jersey school to remove a critically acclaimed anthology of writing about teenage homosexuality from library shelves after parents described it as vulgar and obscene.

Revolutionary Voices, a collection of stories, poems and artwork by young homosexuals, was banned at Rancocas Valley Regional High School last week following a campaign by the local chapter of Glenn Beck’s conservative 9.12 project. Local grandmother and 9.12 member Beverly Marinelli told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the book was “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate”, while insisting that she is “not a homophobe”.

But a coalition of free speech groups has jumped to the book’s defence, saying that residents “have no right to impose their views on others or to demand that the contents of the library reflect their personal, religious, or moral values”.

“There are undoubtedly GLBTQ [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning] students at Rancocas Valley High School, regardless of whether they are openly recognised. Removing any of these titles would send a clear message to those students that they are the objects of social disapproval – different, vulnerable, and marginal – whose needs for information of particular relevance to their lives are not respected,” wrote the directors of a collection of organisations to the school’s board. The letter, the signatories to which include the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers and PEN America, added that there was “no question that these books are not obscene”.

“No one has to read something just because it’s on the library shelf,” the letter continued. “No book is right for everyone, and the role of the library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values … Even if the books are too mature for some students, they will be meaningful to others.”

Lambda Legal, a US civil rights group representing gays, lesbians, and people with HIV/Aids, has also written to the school board saying that removing the book “undermines the school’s obligation and ability to protect students regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity”.

The book’s editor, Amy Sonnie, pointed to a letter from a 15-year-old boy, who said that on reading the volume he was relieved to discover “that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity”.

“Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged,” said Sonnie. “But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the ‘diversity of voices’ that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the local 9.12 group is now looking to get the same book removed from the Lenape regional high school district, the county’s largest school district. But the paper said that students were “shrugging off” the controversy. “Just because these books are in the library isn’t going to cause us to be gay,” they said. “We have so much access to information, if we want to read something we’ll read it.”

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Granta’s new issue dedicated to sex reminds us that only the sin of Onan really retains the power to shock readers

It had to happen eventually. Britain’s most distinguished literary quarterly has knocked off work early, picked up some wine on the way home and taken the phone off the hook. That’s right: Granta has just published its sex issue.

The issue covers all kinds of couplings – mainly the dysfunctional and alienated, rather than the loving and rewarding kind – but one story stands out. Emmanuel Carrère’s This Is For You, originally published in Le Monde in 2002, takes the form of a letter addressed to his girlfriend, whom he knew would be reading the paper that day as she travelled across France. Arch, poised and perfectly paced, Carrère’s letter instructs her to gradually lose herself in a masturbatory fantasy, to the point where she has no option but to take matters into her own hands in the train toilet. Hilariously, Carrère then imagines that other women reading the paper on the same train might also be compelled, by the sheer impact of his erotic instruction, to excuse themselves on similarly pressing business. (In the end, he gives the final climactic scene to one of these anonymous women: “She goes for it, fingers in, too late for dainty refinements, she wants it too much and has been ready for at least an hour now.”)

It’s a heroic piece of writing, and trumps everything else in the issue, for this simple reason: it makes the lonely journey to the last frontier of literary sex. You see, we’ve read about every kind of sex imaginable. Nothing shocks us anymore. Few will bat an eyelid that Granta has published a sex issue; some are even mourning the golden age of literary sex, when there were still taboos left to smash. When, they ask, are things going to get dirty again? If you want an answer to that question, ladies and gentlemen, let me propose one. In 2010, the only sex that’s truly dangerous and unbounded is solitary.

Masturbation has always been literary. “Traffic with thyself”, as Shakespeare tuttingly referred to it, is the only sex that takes place purely in the imagination – fictional characters are its livelihood. Better still, there are no rules, all bets are off, and you can get away with whatever you like. But despite being truly democratic – if not downright anarchic – in its availability, masturbation is the one form of sex that writers have yet to truly get to grips with.

Perhaps this is because we’re still hungover from the time when self-love was seen as the cause of everything from insanity to infirmity to an early death. According to one prominent historian, we have yet to resolve our anxiety over this activity, which represents not a social engagement with another, but a retreat into the unbounded world of our imaginations. We still feel deep ambivalence about such unpoliced pleasure, even while most of us are paid-up subscribers. The horror of masturbation – which has no rules and can’t be brought to heel by society – has been handed down to us largely intact. Ninety years after Ulysses was banned for not-very-subtly describing Bloom’s “long Roman candle” joyously exploding in the air, the act of onanism retains a power to shock that no other kind of sex in literature can.

What else could explain the uproar which greeted Charlotte Roche’s Wetlands? Yes, it explored the female body with incredible candour; but equally its power came from the narrator’s unabashed confessions of where her sexual instincts goes when no one is watching. Or how about the high priest of self-pleasure, Philip Roth? His seminal (forgive me) Portnoy’s Complaint was said to have shattered the taboo of masturbation, but I wonder if that’s the case. For my money, the scene in Sabbath’s Theatre where the protagonist discovers a love-rival masturbating over the grave of his late mistress (something he himself has been doing) represents something darker and more shocking than many routine Rothian sex scenes – the primary sexual impulse, careening off the rails and unchecked by interaction with anyone else.

So let’s hear it for literary masturbation, and its power to still make us blush. And in the spirit of all things user-generated, how about sharing your own favourite moments from the literary history of self-love? The more imaginative, the better.

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The Twilight books are among the books that have received most calls to be banned from from US libraries

Queen of teen vampire romance Stephenie Meyer has topped every bestseller chart going but she has now made it onto a less coveted chart, after her Twilight books joined the ranks of those most frequently requested to be banned from US libraries.

Meyer’s novels, about the romance between a human teenage girl and a vampire, came fifth on the American Library Association’s list of books which people tried hardest to ban in the last year. This is the first time the Mormon author’s novels have appeared in the line-up – JK Rowling and Philip Pullman are both veterans of the list – with complaints about both their level of sexual explicitness and their “religious viewpoint”.

“It is the books which are read frequently which are frequently challenged – with all the hype around Twilight and the movies and the celebrities I was actually surprised Meyer’s books weren’t higher,” said Angela Maycock at the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. Vampire books in general accumulated a host of complaints last year, Maycock said, with “the idea of vampires and other supernatural entities in opposition to certain religious viewpoints”. JK Rowling doesn’t make it into this year’s list but her Harry Potter books were the most challenged of the last decade, the ALA said today, with complaints over their “satanism” and “anti-family themes”.

The most challenged books of 2009 were Lauren Myracle’s young adult series of books TTYL, written entirely in the style of instant messaging. A host of objections were made to Myracle’s books – over their language, coverage of drugs and sexual explicitness. “These books deal realistically with young adult lives – the ickyness, the weirdness of adolescence and the difficult situations lots of teens face,” said Maycock. “Twilight of course deals with adolescence too, but is very much about the supernatural. It’s interesting that both realism and fantasy are causing high levels of concern.”

Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book about two male penguins bringing up an orphaned chick which has topped the list for the last three years, slipped into second place, while Philip Pullman fell out of the list altogether.

Instead, the late JD Salinger’s iconic novel of teenage rebellion The Catcher in the Rye, which has provoked a storm of complaints – from being “anti-white” and “obscene” to being “centred around negative activity” and “a filthy, filthy book” – ever since it was published more than 50 years ago, returned to the list of most challenged books after a four-year absence. “It’s really a very cherished favourite for many readers so seeing it there can be shocking. People might ask ‘are we still having problems with Catcher in the Rye?’ The truth is, yes we are. It’s a classic because of many of the things which make it potentially objectionable, including the language used and the fact that Holden Caulfield is really a classic non-conformist. That can be scary,” said Maycock.

Another classic title, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, was the fourth most challenged book in 2009, for “racism” and “offensive language”. “Similar to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lee uses the language of a certain time but the use is to put forward a very strongly anti-racist message, so it is really a shame that one particular word makes a book objectionable when the message of the book is exactly the opposite,” said Maycock.

Last year, the ALA received 460 reports about efforts to remove books from the shelves of schools or libraries for being inappropriate, down from 513 challenges last year. But the association estimates that its statistics only represent 20-25% of the complaints that actually occur. The ALA said it was aware of 81 instances in which materials were actually removed from schools and libraries last year, including copies of Brave New World, The Kite Runner, Black Hawk Down and To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Even though not every book will be right for every reader, the ability to read, speak, think and express ourselves freely are core American values,” said Barbara Jones, director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. “Protecting one of our most fundamental rights – the freedom to read – means respecting each other’s differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read.”

The top 10 titles most challenged titles of 2009 were:

1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series) by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Reasons: Homosexuality

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

6. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

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For 50 years PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee has been campaigning on behalf of writers who have been imprisoned for speaking their minds

“You’re free to write,” read the email that stood out from the others in my inbox. I clicked on the message. Its words struck home: “Others have not been so lucky”.

The email was an invitation to participate in a project to mark 50 years of the International PEN Writers in Prison Committee.

Choosing to participate caused me to stop and think, properly for the first time, about the writing freedom I take for granted every single day.

Since 1960, the PEN Writers in Prison Committee has been campaigning for writers who have been threatened, suppressed or imprisoned for their work. The most famous include Wole Soyinka, Vaclav Havel and Salman Rushdie, who have all had to weigh their words in fear.

The committee was formed at a PEN meeting in Rio De Janeiro, after researchers passed round a list of 56 writers imprisoned in Albania, Czechoslavakia, Hungary and Romania.

PEN centres began to spring up in countries where writers had been imprisoned because they spoke or wrote their minds. Fifty years on, there are more than 70 centres worldwide and together they support around 900 persecuted writers, editors and journalists each year.

To mark 50 years of defending freedom of expression, PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is running a year-long campaign – Because Writers Speak Their Minds.

One strand of this campaign highlights the cases of 50 writers PEN has campaigned on behalf of in the 50 years that the committee has operated. Each of the oppressed writers, who include Mamadali Makhmudov from Uzbekistan, poet Angel Cuadra from Cuba and Bangladeshi novelist, poet and journalist Taslima Nasrin, has been paired with a writer from writing group 26, of which I am a member.

The task? Write 50 words, no more, no less, inspired by the life and work of the writer.

These pieces are being posted each day online in the run up to, and during, the Free the Word! Festival, held 14-18 April.

Not all of the campaigned-for writers are still alive. The writer I wrote about was Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was shot dead in January 2007 outside his newspaper Agos, a bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper.

He was among a number of high profile writers charged under Article 301 of the Penal Code, accused of “insulting Turkishness” in his writings. He had received numerous death threats.

What can you say in 50 words? Not much. But hopefully 50 words a day for 50 days, will highlight freedom taken for granted, and freedom lost.

• Some of the writers that the committee has supported over the years will be celebrated at the 50th anniversary of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee at the London School of Economics on Friday, 16 April

• Follow 26:50 at 26-50.tumblr.com

• Free The Word festival blog: freetheblog.typepad.com

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With Banned Books week fast approaching I have already read enough about people who continually try to ban books, but yet here we are again… From The Bookseller, Sally Floyer writes… The press has been buzzing in recent weeks over the withdrawal from the GCSE syllabus of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about disaffected youth, “Education […]

“It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” — Judy Blume I read this recently and I find it […]

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