A year sure goes by quickly. It’s Bland Books Week again, the week when librarians and the ALA spew blatant nonsense all over the country about how virtuous librarians are protecting the country from censorship that doesn’t exist. We librarians sure are heroic!
It should just be called “Librarians Trying to Make Themselves Feel Important” Week, because that’s about all it does. Or maybe it should be called “Librarians Make Themselves Look Illogical” Week, because it does that, too.
If you want to see a good example of bad reasoning, look no further than the ALA page About Banned and Challenged Books. I was almost going to skip talking about Band Books Week, but reading through that page irritated me so much I couldn’t resist.
It starts out well enough, explaining the difference between a book being challenged and a book being banned from a library. Unfortunately, after the first paragraph, the page descends into gobbledygook.
After reading the very sensible explanation of bans and challenges, we then get this:
Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information…. Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful.
From a book being banned from one library, which rarely happens and which almost always concerns a book being removed from a school library, to censorship. That’s the unjustifiable logical leap that annoys me every time. There isn’t one shred of argument to defend the claim that removing a book from one library is censorship. Not one.
Instead of any argument linking book removal to censorship, there’s a totally irrelevant quote from John Stuart Mill. Here’s part of it:
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
It’s a great quote from Mill, only it has absolutely nothing to do with book banning or book challenges. Removing Slaughterhouse Five from a grade school library, for example, silences the expression of nobody.
Now I’ll agree that silencing people’s free speech is censorship, and that it’s a bad thing. And because it’s a bad thing, I’m really glad I live in a country without censorship, instead of a country like North Korea.
We get another great quote as well, from Supreme Court Justice William Brennan:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
That quote is from Texas v. Johnson, a case where Johnson’s right to burn the American Flag was upheld by the Supreme Court. I agree with it completely. Can anyone show how that quote or that case is relevant to book challenges? No, you can’t, because book challenges have nothing to do with prohibiting expression.
Ideas are expressed. Books are published. Books are widely available. Thus, the government hasn’t prohibited the expression of an idea, and there is no censorship. It’s so simple anyone but a librarian could understand it.
Looking at the list banned and/or challenged classics the ALA provides is hardly frightening, either. While the list includes the occasional work that was censored somewhere decades ago, it’s hard to find many books that have actually been “banned,” thus putting the lie to “Banned” Books week. “Challenged Books Week” doesn’t have the same ring to it, I guess.
Here’s the entry for Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Banned in Boston, MA (1930), Ireland (1953), Riverside, CA (1960), San Jose, CA (1960). Burned in Nazi bonfires in Germany (1933).”
Censorship rears its ugly head! And Nazis!
Gone with the Wind: “Banned from Anaheim, CA Union High School District English classrooms (1978)”. Oh my, I hope those Anaheim high school students, Class of ‘78, survived that “censorship.”
Slaughterhouse Five: “Removed as required reading for sophomores at the Coventry, RI High School (2000) after a parent complained that it contains vulgar language, violent imagery, and sexual content.” “Removed as required reading.” Wow. Brutal oppression and censorship. The Nazis won another round.
The Lord of the Rings: “Burned in Alamagordo, NM (2001) outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic.” So it wasn’t banned or challenged and has nothing to do with libraries, but it sure makes for a good story. A librarian should have plucked that book out of the fire!
But wait, there was a book “Burned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library.” The Grapes of Wrath, in 1939.
In some ways it’s a ridiculous list, since it lumps together vastly different categories of book challenges, from some like Ulysses that were actually censored to others that have merely been challenged by some parent as appropriate required reading at Podunk High School.
The ALA has to do that, because if the list were confined to books that had actually been censored in the United States, it would be such a short list that even the OIF might be embarrassed.
This annoying lunacy has even spread across the pond, as we can see in this ludicrously titled news article from Britain: Libraries lift ban on ‘too controversial’ books.
It profiles a library that is displaying “banned” books, which have been “taken off library shelves across the world.” That’s right. They’re not even books that were “banned” in Britain.
Oh well, nobody expects librarians to be smart or reasonable, and pretending that librarians are heroes fighting against the censorship bogeyman makes a lot of them feel better about themselves.
At least during “Banned” Books Week, librarians actually talk about books, a subject generally banned from conversation by librarians most of the time.