I’m usually a major fan of Erin O’Connor, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania (she’s on leave this year) whose blog, Critical Mass, tracks politically correct heavy-handedness at our nation’s colleges and universities: professors being denied tenure because they’re not left-wing enough, and so forth. I just wish that Erin, in her laudable battle against censorship, weren’t so eager to jump onto the bandwagon of the American Library Association, which is also against censorship–but only selectively.
The ALA has repeatedly refused to support the cause of independent (that is, non-government-employed) librarians in Cuba, where not only is censorship routine for literature that Maximum Leader Fidel Castro doesn’t like, but librarians are serving prison terms of up to 25 years for dissenting to Castro’s Marxist regime (click to the Friends of Cuban Libraries website for details). The ALA’s poisition: The Cuban independents aren’t real librarians because they don’t have degrees in library science. Meanwhile, ALA reps take field trips to Cuba to schmooze with the bureaucrats who run the country’s official library system.
This week is Banned Books Week for the American Library Association. Of course, few books are banned in America these days, so the ALA is taking up the cause of “challenged” books–books that some people might like to ban from their local public libraries even though they haven’t succeeded in doing so. Erin has a list of the 100 most challenged books of the 1990s on her website and a link to the top challengees of 2003 here. (In Cuba, by the way, Fidel-offensive books, such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” aren’t just “challenged”; they’re not to be found on the shelves of the state-owned libraries.)
As I read through the ALA list, I couldn’t help but think that it would be no great loss if most of the books on it actually were banned. How many people would miss “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya “Jew Rhymes With Sioux” Angelou, surely the world’s worst poet? Or Brent Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho”? Many of the challenged books present controversial sexual or lifestyle material in glowing terms to children: “Daddy’s Roommate,” “Heather Has Two Mommies,” Robin Harris’s “It’s Perfectly Normal,” and “Boys and Sex” by Wardell Baxter Pomeroy,” co-author of the ethically and academically dubious Kinsey Report. Since most public librarians these days refuse to do anything about preventing such books from getting into kids’ hands without their parents’ permission, I can understand why some moms and dads would object to having to pay with their tax dollars for books that they don’t want their children to read.
And I think that Michael Bellesiles’ thoroughly discredited “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture” (No. 4 on the 2003 list) ought to be removed from libraries. That’s the book that argues that almost no one in America owned a gun during the Revolutionary War–and author Bellesiles lost his job as a tenured history professor at Emory University after an independent panel of historians found that he had fudged his statistics. “Arming America”‘s own publisher disowned it. Why should it continue to take up space on taxpayer-supported shelves?
Only a few genuinely literary masterpieces appear on the ALA list of challengees, notably “Huckleberry Finn”–and that’s a book that many of the politically correct don’t mind banning, as they can’t seem to get it through their heads that Mark Twain was criticizing, not lauding, the Southern whites of his time for using the n-word and supporting slavery.
That’s not to say that I want to ban William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” (No. 70 on the ’90s list) or the Harry Potter books (No. 2 in 2003) as some people apparently do. But this whole matter of “challenged” books needs some perspective. The overwhelming majority of them were clearly challenged either by wack-cases with no chance of obtaining their desired goals or by parents attempting in vain to shield their children from sexually controversial material. In any event, the censorship did not occur in most cases. So why doesn’t the American Library Association use Banned Books week instead to focus on actual instances of the banning of books–such as, um, in Cuba?