Banned books better for brains

Many would think librarians would be the last people on Earth who would encourage rebellion. However, this week they want everyone to be a rebel with a literary cause.

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. The association wants everyone to read books that have been banned or challenged.

Books are challenged for a number of reasons, most of the time with the best of intentions. The ALA found the top three reasons for challenging or banning books are sexuality, profanity and topics unsuitable for the intended age group.

The ALA has made a number of lists of the most banned and/or challenged books based on newspaper articles and reports submitted by individuals to the ALA Web site.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series sits atop the list of the most banned modern books. The series, which has been criticized for allegedly supporting witchcraft and magic, is No. 7 on the list of the Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000.In addition to being taken out of libraries and off reading lists, the Harry Potter books even have been burned by some people, such as the members of the Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, N.M., in December 2001.

“Behind that innocent face is the power of satanic darkness,” pastor Jack Brock said to BBC News about the books. “Harry Potter is the devil, and he is destroying people.”

Rowling, however, doesn’t see that in her books.

“If we are going to object to depicting magic in books, then we are going to have to reject C.S. Lewis. We’re going to have to get rid of The Wizard of Oz. A lot of classic children’s literature is not going to be allowed to survive that … and I’m very opposed to censorship,” Rowling said on Larry King Live in October 2000.

Other banned or challenged children’s fantasy novels gracing the list include The Witches and James and the Giant Peach, both by Roald Dahl.

The classics have also felt the heat of ignominy. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is 15th on the list, even though it has been in circulation for more than 50 years. The book created one of the most infamous literary characters, Holden Caulfield, who had been expelled from his prep school and is the narrator of the story. The book has been challenged or banned according to the ALA because of its “sexual content, offensive language and unsuitability for age group.”Another book that has been challenged for years is The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Even though it’s a 30-year-old work, it’s listed in the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2005 and is frequently targeted because of its sexual content and offensive language.

So support the right to read what you want.

Judy Blume, author of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and No. 2 on the ALA’s list of most challenged authors, said it best on her official Web site: “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.”