Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

September 26th to October 3rd is Banned Books Week, and various groups are doing some consciousness raising about it, such as the American Library Association, and this clumsy website. The ALA site has a list of the Radcliffe Publishing Course's Top 1oo books (of the 20th century), and reasons why they are frequently banned. From what I can gather, Radcliffe compiled this list for the Modern Library editorial board (and it doesn't look like it's organized chronologically). From what I can remember, I've only read 16 and a half of the books listed, but I would probably never read all one hundred anyway. For my reasoning see numbers 43 and 92.

The reasons given for challenging books are not the most entertaining reading, but they sometimes have entertainment value. Take, for instance, the list of prudish offenses taken toward Slaughterhouse-Five:
Challenged in many communities, but burned in Drake, N. Dak (1973). Banned in Rochester, Mich. because the novel "contains and makes references to religious matters" and thus fell within the ban of the establishment clause. An appellate court upheld its usage in the school in Todd v Rochester Community Schools, 41 Mich. App. 320, 200 N. W 2d 90 (I 972). Banned in Levittown, N.Y (1975), North Jackson, Ohio (1979), and Lakeland, Fla. (1982) because of the "book's explicit sexual scenes, violence, and obscene language." Barred from purchase at the Washington Park High School in Racine, Wis. (I 984) by the district administrative assistant for instructional services. Challenged at the Owensboro, Ky. High School library (1985) because of "foul language, a section depicting a picture of an act of bestiality, a reference to 'Magic Fingers' attached to the protagonist's bed to help him sleep, and the sentence: 'The gun made a ripping sound like the opening of the fly of God Almighty."'
To tell you the truth, I had forgotten about that last line. What a zinger!

However, this banned books list reminds me that I haven't started Ulysses. I'm already reading Hegel and Sartre for a paper! It's not like Ulysses is casual reading for unwinding after that.

4 comments:

Corey said...

I too found the Radcliffe Publishing list's 43 and 92 to be odd choices.

I remember when these top 100 books of the 20th century started coming out and I didn't remember either of those books on them.

But I did a search and noticed that it was the Modern Library who did the first list of this sort (their editorial board's choice) and while I don't think much of such lists in general, I thought it was a good attempt.

I did recall that the "fans" of 43 and 92---recalling the term's root "fanatic"---on the Radcliffe list freaked out that the ML list did not include them.

After the PR uproar ML created a "readers vote" list. And guess what, Radcliffe's 43 and 92 were 1 and 2 on that list --- I guess we should call that the wisdom of the crowd.

If you are looking for a list of this sort, and I remember we had fun at work comparing who had read what on the ML list when it came out. (If this sounds odd as an office pastime I should point out that I worked with a group of technical writers at the time almost all of whom had English degrees, and many of whom could read.)

Both lists can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Library_100_Best_Novels

Compare to the Radcliffe List:
http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics/index.cfm

Devin Zane Shaw said...

I see the difference. The ML list is decent, although I have only read 9.5 of the entries on their list. The Radcliffe list had me confused. Out of thousands of books, Ayn Rand? Twice!?

Corey said...

I think that if you were to press for a definition of "middle-brow" Ayn Rand would somehow feature in it.

Devin Zane Shaw said...

Much better than being pressed for a definition of erotic and thinking of Ayn Rand...