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You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

can't read_49

YCRT! News:

Arizona School Book Banning Update:

Tucson Unified School District's banned Mexican-American Studies Program goes extracurricular. Interested students can now discuss outlawed subject matter and read forbidden books in off-campus classes while earning college credit, thanks to exiled teachers and public support! People will find a way, it seems.


The scary part of this thoughtful essay on self-censorship: that if libraries lose public funding and become commercially sponsored, they'll succumb to pressure to remove or censor controversial books. You can see the self-censorship dynamic in action at PBS, which is now more dependent on commercial sponsorship than it is on public funding. Here's a two-part article about PBS censoring content:

Nice one. Click to see the whole cartoon.
Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.01.42 AM

Interesting look at the other side: the Illinois Family Institute's reaction to the reinstatement of the briefly-banned book The Perks of Being a Wallflower in a Chicago area middle school.

The current scandal over NSA domestic surveillance may have little relationship to book banning or censorship, but it has a lot to do with librarians and the American Library Association, who were the first to challenge the government's post-9/11 attempt to snoop into our reading habits.

In honor of librarians and the ALA, then, a great quotation from Kurt Vonnegut:

And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.

So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.

Of course, not everyone likes librarians or the ALA. I mentioned Dan Kleinman and his SafeLibraries organization in a previous post. Lately he's been using Twitter to push the notion that people looking at porn on library computers is a widespread phenomenon, somehow linked to commie librarians and the ALA. Here are three Dan Kleinman porn-scare tweets, all posted on the same day:
Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.49.18 AM

And here's another one, explicitly making the librarian/ALA link:
Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 9.27.36 AM

Notice the lack of links or photos of library users looking at porn? It's not that I don't believe Mr. Kleinman, but I'd like to see some proof. So I challenged him last night:
Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.49.57 AM

He retweeted my challenge to his own followers, so we'll see what happens. Next time I'm at my library I'll check out the computer room. If I see anyone looking at porn, I'll take photos and put them on Twitter, Facebook, and my own YCRT! posts. I actually agree with Mr. Kleinman on this one: people should not be allowed to use library computers to look at porn ... not because I think porn should be outlawed, but because I don't think it's right to force it on others in a public place like the library.

YCRT! Banned Book Reviews

Here are three short book reviews I wrote in 2009, shortly after starting to write about banned books.

flowers for algernonFlowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes

A story aimed at young adults but completely satisfying as adult fiction; also, another on my list of previously-unread challenged and banned books. Flowers for Algernon is the story of Charlie, a mentally-challenged man who participates in a medical experiment designed to not only heal but improve his mind; he becomes intelligent enough to learn several languages and even to take over his own experiment and predict its eventual sad end.

Along the way he recovers disturbing childhood memories, learns the truth about people he had once considered friends, and begins to live as an adult among adults, both intellectually and sexually. The latter, of course, has been the focus of effort after effort to have the book banned from school libraries and teaching curricula, even though Charlie's experiences with women are written in a decidedly non-pornographic manner.

When I went to high school in the 1960s, people were just beginning to de-institutionalize and mainstream mentally-challenged kids. There were a few in my high school class. This book would have had an enormous impact of me and my classmates, at the very least in terms of understanding and compassion. Hell, it's having an enormous impact on me as an adult!

Flowers for Algernon is a fascinating, compelling novel. I read it straight through in one sitting. Some of the banned books I'm reading are less than satisfying, but this one book alone makes the entire project worthwhile.

the giverThe Giver
Lois Lowrey

A fun, engaging read, a Margaret Atwood-style near-future story of a heavily-regulated conformist dystopia, and a young teenager's dawning awareness of other possibilities, other ways to live. Although The Giver is aimed at teens, it's a good and memorable read for adults.

Oddly, The Giver seemed to me the sort of novel book-banners would love. It's a celebration of freedom, for goodness' sake, and a ringing endorsement for the presence of God in human affairs. I was shocked to learn that it's frequently challenged at school board meetings across the land, often by parents claiming it insults or demeans their religion, primarily because "the community"—the dystopia in which the story takes place—practices euthanasia and infanticide. Beyond that, parents have challenged the book for discussing sexual awakening among teens, the degradation of traditional motherhood, and the use of occult terms like "clairvoyance"—all things that are mentioned in the book, true, but not advocated or endorsed ... which they'd know if they'd read it themselves.

Children, of course, are plenty tough enough to read The Giver, and I can't think of a child anywhere who wouldn't benefit from reading it. Or many adults, either, especially the ones who reflexively challenge it and try to have it removed from school reading lists.

chocolate warThe Chocolate War
Robert Cormier

Stories for and about adolescents typically follow a time-honored convention regarding bullying. Brave young boys and girls stand up to social and peer pressure, buck conformity, and do the right thing. They look bullies in the eye and the bullies back down. The bad guys lose. The good guys experience adversity but triumph in the end.

What the hell kind of story is The Chocolate War? Jerry Renault does the right thing and everyone—literally everyone—turns against him. The bullies don't back down; on the contrary, they kick his teeth in, with the full backing of Brother Leon, the acting headmaster of Trinity School. The message? Conform or die. The bad guys triumph, the good guy loses. Uh, I have just one question: how did Robert Cormier manage to find a publisher?

What I don't question is why parents continually try to have this book taken off school reading lists (it's been near the top of every banned book list published since 1974). It's just too real for parents. They want their children to have a more idealistic picture of the world they'll someday inherit. Of course, the world their children actually live in is the same world Jerry Renault lives in, but don't tell their moms and dads that.

Interestingly, though, the essential cynicism of the book doesn't seem to be what gets parents so het up. No. It's the occasional references to masturbation. Don't believe me? Follow this link to read an actual challenge to The Chocolate War, and marvel at the forces of Puritanism still loose in the land.

This is a great story. If I had read it as a freshman or sophomore in high school (had it existed then ... it was first published in 1974), it would have had the same impact on me Joseph Heller's Catch-22 did in my college years. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. It's beautifully written, it's true to life, it stays with you.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
alternate Mondays
2:00 PM Political Books Susan from 29
Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
Thu (third each month - on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
Fri 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht; first one each month by ArkDem14
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid
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Comment Preferences

  •  I read Flowers for Algernon (10+ / 0-)

    in my early twenties. I could not put it down and read it straight through in one sitting. It is a profound and engrossing novel. I actually didn't remember there were any sexual references in the book.

    That someone could actually read this story and get nothing out of it but the sex is pathetic. Mindless prudes are the ones who should be banned.

  •  Librarians and Libraries (5+ / 0-)

    I am a huge fan of libraries and librarians; in my experience librarians like Kleinman are the exception to the rule.

    When I was young, our local library was a refuge--in addition to books, books, and more books, it was air conditioned! I still visit our main library 3 or 4 times a week.

    There was one very stern librarian there (we all knew her and avoided her whenever possible) who took it upon herself to monitor the reading and browsing (through the stacks, no computers then) habits of the younger patrons of "her" library. I was busted numerous times for browsing the adult fiction section; so much so that I ended up getting a note from my Mom that said I was allowed to access that section so I could get books for her. That wasn't exactly true, although I would occasionally bring her card to get her a specific book, but my parents didn't really want us watched by the librarian.

    I haven't thought of "Mrs. Praetorian" in quite some time! At first we were so scared of her, later it was more a game to get away with whatever we could under her watchful eye.

    So why do some librarians want to curtail or prohibit others from accessing what is available at the library? I don't know, maybe they are just mean, like exercising power, like being moral arbiters of their domains. But if such silly actions embolden even one kid to read the likes of The Catcher in the Rye, then bravo.

  •  Will Someone Please Explain to Me (6+ / 0-)

    Why mostly conservatives types have so much regard for the "safety" of my mind, but so little regard for the "safety" of my person when it comes to personal medical decisions or gun control?

    Librarians -- the good ones, who are the rule -- are the first line protectors of civilization and among the first shot, along with teachers, by the barbarians when they implement totalitarian rule.

    Thanks for your devotion to this series.  I think it's the most important one we have on R&BLers.

    My Miami-Dade Public Library System employs filtering s/w to combat porn surfing.  How effective it is, I don't know, never having used their computers to access the Internet.  But I doubt many free access computers allow totally free access to all Internet content.  Especially in libraries where there are many patrons waiting their turn.  I imagine social media sites may be blocked for related reasons.  Hence, I wonder if Kleinman isn't starting a false rumor just to stir the pot.

    Here's an interesting forum discussion on the topic.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 09:18:08 AM PDT

    •  I bet every library in the US blocks porn sites (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      714day, blueoasis, P Carey, RiveroftheWest

      but we do live in a culture where sexiness is ubiquitous, selling beer and cigarettes, attracting page-views.

      So if someone was determined to fight the godless liberalism of free computers in libraries, they could probably find pictures that look almost like soft-porn, and then complain about "porn" on library computers.

      Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.

      Following your link to the forum discussion, it begins:

      I'm a librarian. Every public library has filtering software to prevent "inappropriate" content from being accessed from the library computers. That includes porn, not much controversy there, but beyond that it can get surprising. At a Florida Library Association conference in Jacksonville last year, I could not access the SDMB from public library computers!

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 10:21:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My library blocks porn. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      P Carey, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

      But I have seen people looking at "internet bride" sites and that can come pretty close.

      No, I don't go looking at screens checking what people are doing! The computers are out in the open and we have to walk through them to get from one to the other section of adult fiction. It wouldn't be all that difficult to make the area more private.  Cause, really, no matter what you are looking at, do you want someone else watching over your shoulder?

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 12:05:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What do you mean by "porn," kemosabe? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Brecht, Limelite

      That's the operative question here, and one of the reasons I pimped the guy for photos. I don't believe people are using library computers to look at porn. I don't believe people CAN use library computers to look at porn.

      I do believe some library users will test the limits of whatever filtering software the library installs, however ... that's just human nature. I bet if Mr. Kleinman ever does publish photos, we'll probably see women in bikinis from Sports Illustrated.

      Thank you for the encouraging words, Limelite. This is one of my favorite blogging topics, and (good for me/bad for us) the news never stops coming!

  •  The Chocolate War (7+ / 0-)

    The Chocolate War was on the reading list for one of the English classes when I was in high school  in the late '70s.  I didn't read it, because it was required for a different teacher than I had, and because it sounded damned depressing.  I enjoyed reading to escape the soul-grinding reality of High School, not to re-live it.

    But years later while living in Iowa I became friends with a couple of high school teachers, one of which taught English in a small town, (which I will not name other than to mention it has a gigantic concrete bull in its park.  Yes, I'm sure it's not a cow.  You can tell).

    Anyway.  One year my friend was going to teach The Chocolate War for her class.  She notified the parents of her students in advance, as she had the previous year with Catcher In the Rye, and had gotten signed permission from them all.  She'd had no problem with Catcher, so she didn't forsee problems with this one either.

    Unfortunately, an influential member of the School Board, (who did not actually have any children in school, but who was the Richest Man In Town) found the book objectionable and insisted that she withdraw it.  She expected the school's principle to back her up, but he sided with the School Board Guy, (aka The Richest Man In Town).

    As a matter of principle, my friend resigned.  She had only planned to spend one more year there anyway to return to college for her Master's Degree, so I suppose she could have toughed it out, but she felt this was important.

    On the last day of school that semester, her students brought her a cake with a bunch of little plastic soldierss on top fighting across a chocolate icing battlefield.  She still has a picture of that cake.

    Somehow that picture didn't make it into the School Yearbook.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 10:03:28 AM PDT

  •  On taking pictures of Porn-Surfers in Libraries (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, P Carey, RiveroftheWest

    I'm instinctively against any censorship - but I agree with you, Libraries should block porn sites. Nobody should have that put in front of them against their will, just because they happen to be walking past someone else looking at it.

    Your challenge tweet seems a sensible move. But I'm not certain.

    There are censorious fanatics, who will now be desperately trying to access porn on library computers. Then they can take a picture of that, and use it as a stick to beat their issue. By far the likeliest outcome here, is blanket policies over-restricting internet access in libraries. There are just too many small-minded right-wingers who would love to make life harder for libraries, who would even use this as a way to cut funding: "Those poor people should all get more jobs, and buy books and computers of their own."

    If I saw someone surfing porn at my library, I'd take a picture, and go talk about it with the library administration. I'd trust them to fix the problem before I'd put them on Twitter, for Kleinman and his minions to retweet.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 10:13:24 AM PDT

    •  Probably a good way to get beat up, too. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Brecht

      If I ever do see someone looking at porn in a library and I do happen to have my digital camera with me, I'll try to remember to turn off the shutter click sound first!

      But as I commented above, I don't believe anyone really is looking at porn in public libraries in the first place.

  •  I love libraries. As a kid I was in the library (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    P Carey, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

    twice a week. When I die, I am going to the Great Library in the Sky.

    I despise censorship.

    But I am not just worried about people who want to ban books; I am also worried about this;

    "We're being very ruthless. A book is not forever."
    Sam Clay, director of the library system in Fairfax county, VA, about the threat to remove thousands of books from its 21 libraries, including classics like Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, because they haven't been checked out in two years.
    (emphasis mine)

    I also worry because every time my library gets a little money, unlike Erasmus, they spend it on technology. They hardly ever get new books - except for those on the best seller lists. Have you looked at the best seller list in the last few years?

    As for public television, I cannot be the only one who thinks Nova is getting dumber every season. It's grade school science now.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 12:25:57 PM PDT

  •  Hubby and I have enjoyed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    P Carey, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, chimene

    Frazz by Jef Mallett for many years.  

    It has Michigan references once in a while because he lives in Michigan.  Caufield came along while we were missing Calvin.  

    Also funny because we were teachers.  

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 12:41:50 PM PDT

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