Thursday, October 20, 2011

Banned, burned, bad books

In 1931, China banned "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" because the story portrays animals and humans on the same level. It was believed that animals should not use human language.

"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. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

- On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

Recommended previously banned reading list from Relax Max to you:

The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
The Color Purple Alice Walker
A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L'Engle
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Beloved: A Novel Toni Morrison
Slaughterhouse - five, or, The Children's Crusade Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies William Golding
Native Son Richard Wright
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
The Call of the Wild Jack London
Frankenstein Mary Shelley

Ok, so you say you are open-minded and don't believe in banning and/or burning books. How about the following? It is the American Library Association Council's "Library Bill of Rights." Do you agree with it? All of it? For all books? Even the age part?

Library Bill of Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

A person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; January 23, 1980; inclusion of "age" reaffirmed January 23, 1996.


  1. I don't see anything wrong with the library bill of rights. It is not the library's job to keep my kids from checking out material that is too old for them. That is MY job.

    I agree with many of your recommendations... and just because there are some books that I don't particularly like on it, that does not mean I don't feel they should be available. I just personally don't like them (though I know of none on your list that offend me).

  2. I'm with Shakespeare on this. If my children need policing (and I'm not a huge advocate for overpolicing children), I'll do it. It's my responsibility.

    Personally, I want my children to challenge ideas (including my own) and be exposed to differing points of view. My daughter challenges mine all the time (often to her own chagrin since I insist on knowing the logic behind an opinion).

    This is particularly true when it comes to fiction. Nothing should be banned. One possible caveat are books that are almost entirely opinion listed as nonfiction; unfortunately, I'm not sure differentiating between speculative opinion-making and facts (and the opinions based on them) is a common skill any more. Many teachers can't even make the distinction any more.

  3. Note that, with my caveat, I'm still not advocating banning/burning. Just being careful where you shelve something.

  4. My list was gleaned from other lists by library sites on the internet. I am not this original. But I don't know about any real banned books first hand because I have always been able to buy or check out any books on this list. Some, like Huckleberry Finn, I didn't even know were banned (back when I read them), and from a child's view, couldn't understand why it would be. Had to study To Kill a Mocking Bird for our novel in Am Lit class in high school, but the teacher didn't know the material so none of the "controversial" parts were discussed. I do believe in placement of adult (intended for adults) materials in places separate from children's materials in libraries; parents can't always follow their children around. Especially the books which have big pics of "Christ Piss" art in them. But choosing placement for appropriate audiences is different than banning books, as Stephanie says.

    Should Libraries be in the business of deciding if a book is non-fiction or not? I would just go with what the publisher published it as; beyond the scope of librarian's duties. I'm sure the Bible should be placed in fiction-humor, rather than "reference" section. We stray from topic when we speak of cataloging though. This is about access. I think I disagree with both of you about all materials being available to all ages, and that it is the parent's responsibility, period. I mean, parents need help sometimes orat least cooperation. If they want their kids to see porn, then they can go with the child or buy if for them. (I assume you think it is ok for children to look at porn as long as the parent is with them. After all, who is the librarian to be defining what porn is, right? ) It bothers me to see books still being banned in small town libraries. I think that is a dangerous step. Book banning goes back almost as far as Gutenberg, though. People always try to control other people's minds for some reason. Well, to have power over them, I guess.

  5. Of all the reasons I can think of that books have been banned throughout history, I would have to say religion is by far the greatest instigator. Anyone care to tell us what that means?

    Well, on the one hand, it means parents have an obligation to control what goes into a young child's head when they are formative. Yet, when the parents themselves are told which books are acceptable, what then?

    But, to the same extreme, we had the Nazis and Soviets indoctrinating children. Same.

    And then we come back full circle to our old morality posts. Will stop now.

  6. Clarify:

    I'm NOT sure the Bible should be placed in fiction-humor, rather than "reference" section. I'm sure SOME people would say that. I personally believe it belongs in the reference section. Or religion, whatever the dewey number for that is.

  7. @Adullamite - stealing books from libraries and then burning them for heat doesn't count as bookburning, per se. :)

  8. If you're burning books for heat, be advised that pulp fiction will burn better than glossy arts books.

    However, despite the attractiveness of book bonfires in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, I can tell you that books are not great as fuel. I can tell you this as a combustion expert, with qualifications of all manner of sorts in the field of industrial heating, or I can tell you it as a potter, burning stuff to get 25 feet of flame to heat chambers where rocks melt. Or I can tell you it as a sometime librarian, amongst whose jobs came book-burning. Yes. I personally fed many tons of books into the flames, back in the early seventies, and without the aid of a large quantity of fuel oil, and a huge air blower, the size of a 747's engine, those books would still be alive today.

  9. @Soubriquet - It is indeed technically hard to burn books, as anyone who has merely thrown one on top of a fire can attest. Not enough air between the pages and they slowly turn and not all burn. Well, you knew how to do it though. I've always doubted 451 being the combustion temperature for paper, but have had no scientific apparatus for double checking. I am not scientific, only logical. I'm sure libraries burn more books than any entity on earth. They must. Oh, the sad end to the thick technical journals which have gone out of date! And how expensive their subscriptions were to the taxpayers. No matter. Life marches on. Like Linus, I only shine the toes of my shoes, not caring what people think of me as I leave a room.

    You were a pseudo/quasi/erstwhile/ersatz librarian, eh? Guessing college days and not paid regular book-burner union scale.

  10. Not sure if UK libraries burn books. I think they just sell them cheap to raise funds.

  11. @Adullamite - You doubt Soubriquet's word???? You don't think he burned Icelandic epics, do you? Of course they burn books in the UK. Until recently, at least. I think A. buys all the used ones available now. They sell them at book and pony shows. :)

  12. I worked there for almost a year, after I left school.
    Think Library of Congress, british version.

    It's like the internet, it has everything. not just books, pretty much anything in print, from newspapers to instruction manuals.
    The biggest Russian language library otside russia, ditto chinese. or it was then.
    But, once it's got six copies of something, any further copies are surplus. They're offered to libraries in Britain first, then worldwide.
    After a certain period of time, if nobody puts a request in, they're deleted. Physically. By fire.
    The system, back then, was not too clever, and resulted in official policy occasionally sending 17th century tomes to oblivion.
    When I protested, I was told to shut up and do my job.
    Secretly, I rescued a few.
    If I'd been caught? Oh my. stealing government property?
    I went off to continue my education elsewhere, but returned during the vacations, as I needed to earn money, and because I loved the job.
    My title? "Assistant Scientific Officer, (Unestablished)"
    See, I was part of the library's ruling class, albeit the lowliest part. The place was also inhabited by industrial workers, storemen, maintenance, and trolls. They were the underclass. We had a staff canteen, they had a messroom. I preferred lunch in there, they had pint mugs of tea and bacon sandwiches. And a snooker table.

    Knowing the trolls was very handy, if I wanted to borrow a van, for instance.
    I could also get things done, make things happen, get machines mended, or equipment supplied. My boss couldn't understand how I could get a new desk and a fancy chair, whilst he pleaded unsuccessfully with the boss of supplies.
    But then, he had lunch in the executive dining room. With people at or above his pay-grade.

  13. I can't pass by a book that's asking to be rescued, and not only library ones but charity shops too. They SAY they send them for pulping but is that an improvement?

    Going back to your point about free access to all books for all people, it's not going to be practical for all libraries to stock everything. So if anyone wants a book badly enough to request it, they are probably going to be up to reading it.

  14. @Soubriquet - I was always forced to eat in the underworld. :)

    @A. - And of the books that a given library DOES stock, should all of them be available freely to readers of all ages? Should far lefties and teapartiers be allowed to read books which make one think? :)

    And who decides which books to stock? A librarian? A group of librarians? A board?

    Who decides what librarian to hire? Who decides who can be on a board?

    Who decides how books are bought? From what publishers?


    What if some seemingly harmless books are printed with special code-fonts? I wonder if Iran offers the same freedom of choice in their libraries.

    Is the pen mightier than the sword? I don't want to test it. You go first.

    Was John Stuart Mill a certified loon? Should writers be allowed to use three names? They all do you know. Robert Louis Svenson. Henry David Thoreau. Raph Waldo Emerson. Edgar Allan Poe. William Shakes Peare. Mark Leroy Twain. The lot of them. You can do the Louisa May Apricott list if you want. I would never name a kid Waldo. Unless after a rich uncle, maybe.

  15. And here I need remind you, as always, when speaking on this topic, that Robert Louis Stevenson despised Henry David Thoreau. Hated his phony guts. As all right-thinking people should.

    Personally I get along just fine with Henry David Thoreau. Wally called him Hank but I would have called him Dave. On Saturdays over cake and cookies. Nobody called him Thor.

  16. You've solved the problem! All authors should have three names. Then nobody knows where to find them. Robert Louis Stevenson's worrisome works can be found only under the other initial.

  17. Soub burnt Icelandic epics? Well done to him. We don't want folks wandering about with horns on their helmets do we?

    In the past there was no need to sell books as libraries were properly funded. Thatcher, the mad cow, stopped all that and reduced the cash, and this lot are closing many of them now. How nice of multi millionaires to close libraries. In Victorian days such people opened them for the edification of the poorer sort.

    I am all for burning womens novels as thousand fill the shelves of libraries that could be stocked with books worth reading!



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