By DELANIA TRIGG, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
For many, literary freedom of choice is one of this country’s fundamental principles, and the American Library Association hopes to keep it that way.
The association’s annual “Banned Books Week” — held the first week of October — highlights the right to read.
Cooke County Library participates in Banned Books Week activities each year, Library Director Jennifer Johnson-Spence said.
“What better way to illustrate freedom than to be allowed to read whatever you want,” she said.
The origins of Banned Books Week are rooted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, she added.
To mark the event, Johnson-Spence and her staff assemble a display of books that have been challenged in the past.
Last year’s display featured books hidden under paper bags. Library patrons had to lift the bags to find out which books had sparked controversy.
Some inclusions surprise readers, Johnson-Spence said.
“Even classics like John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and the Harry Potter books have been challenged,” she said. “Banned Books Week calls attention to something many people haven’t even thought about. They see the display at the library and they say, ‘Are you kidding me? Those books are on the (challenged) list?”
Challenges documented on the ALA list usually land there because an individual or group was offended by the author’s use of explicit language, sexual content or racial stereotypes.
According to the ALA, many of the books on the list are in public school libraries and are required reading in U.S. middle schools and high schools.
The ALA points out on its website that a challenged book isn’t merely literature some have found offensive.
Challenging a book is the first step toward getting the book removed from classrooms and libraries — actions which undermine Constitutional freedom, Johnson-Spence said.
“Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to express their thoughts and ideas,” she said. “And people have the right to read whatever they choose.”
Cooke County Library patrons can see the Banned Books display all week at the library.
“This is really a way to be creative and educate people,” Johnson-Spence said. “It’s a week of learning to respect the right to have freedom to read.”
Challenged materials include more than novels and works of nonfiction.
Newspapers, magazines, films, plays, performances, electronic publications and artistic exhibits have also been targeted for some forms of censorship, the ALA noted.
Books challenged or banned during 2010-2011 include:
• Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” — challenged by the Oconee County, Ga. Library because the cover of the book depicts a painting of a woman’s bare breast.
• “The Hunger Games” — A parent in Goffston, New Hampshire complained to the school board that the book gave her 11-year-old daughter nightmares and was dangerous because it could desensitize teens to violence.
• The Koran — Florida preacher Terry Jones burned a copy of The Koran — a book sacred to Muslims. The result? Thousands of protesters overran the United Nation’s compound in Mazar-I-Sharif, Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people.
• Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” — In 2010, a group of Maryland parents petitioned to have Huxley’s novel about a dystopian future removed from use by county schools. The group cited “explicit sexual content” and “racially offensive derogatory language and misinformation on Native Americans.”
• “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” — A parent in the Easton, Penn. School District, said this book about the struggle to survive on minimum wage jobs promotes “economic fallacies,” “socialist ideas,” “illegal drug use,” and a “biased view of capitalism.”
• “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” — This classic work was challenged at the Culpeper County, Va. public schools by a parent who requested her daughter not be required to read the book aloud. The “Anne Frank” challenge sparked international attention when it was reported the memoir, written by a young girl in hiding during the Nazi regime, had been challenged for its “sexual material and homosexual themes.” The book was not removed from the county’s public school reading lists but a Culpeper County official reportedly said “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” would be taught at a different grade level.
For information on “Banned Books Week” visit http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek.
Information from the American Library Association contributed to this report.