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

YCRT! banned book news

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was removed from a New York City school's summer-reading list after parents parents complained about a reference to masturbation. As so often happens in these cases, the author gets the last laugh:

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Alabama parents demand stronger school internet filters after their child looks up Tallulah Bankhead on Wikipedia. I guessing they objected to this anecdote: "And, as everyone breathed a sigh of relief, Chico (Marx) told her, 'You know, I really want to fuck you.' She replied, 'And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy.'" The parents say a passage like that would never have made it into a print encyclopedia ... and I have to say they're probably correct on that point.

Of course, filtering objectionable content on the internet is very hard to do, and may even be impossible. Here's an interesting discussion on that subject, prompted by British plans to block internet porn.

We're used to reading about book challenges at the primary and secondary school level. In my last YCRT! diary I described former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel's efforts to ban a highly regarded history text from state colleges. Challenging college-level books seems to be a new trend: “'If this book were a magazine it would be wrapped in brown paper,' said Oran Smith, director of Palmetto Family Council. 'We reviewed every book assigned in SC this year. Many were provocative. This one is pornographic. Not a wise choice for 18-year-olds at a taxpayer-supported college.'” The book? Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home.

In my previous YCRT! diary I described how University of Alabama students, believing that most school-level book challenges and bannings don't get reported, filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the state's school districts to unearth this information. Results so far: 77 districts reported no challenges in the past 5 years; 46 districts failed to provide any information, and 9 districts reported challenges. The reported challenges are ones we already knew about: reference books about pregnancy, teen vampire novels, books that contain profanity. But what about the 46 districts that didn't provide any information? I hope the university students refuse to take "no comment" for an answer. I'll keep an eye out for future news from Alabama.

Here's a strange kind of censorship: words Apple regards as so sensitive they refuse to include them in spell check programs. Words that make Apple squirm include: rape, murder, virginity, masturbate, fornicate, bullet, ammo, and abortion. Based on the number of times I've seen people spell masturbate "masterbate," I'd say Apple is doing the world a disservice.

"A pastor in Wichita Falls urged people to check out Heather from the library and not return it. Around the country, people stole, defaced or burned the book and protested libraries that carried it." Lesléa Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, speaks.

YCRT! banned book review

east of edenEast of Eden
John Steinbeck
4_0

East of Eden was John Steinbeck’s blockbuster novel, a sprawling tale of brothers, fathers, wives, good and evil, love and hate, the end of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th, California history, war and peace. The heart of the novel is the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, twice explored . . . first with the brothers Adam and Charles, then again with Adam’s sons Aron and Caleb.

I hadn’t read Steinbeck since college; it’s grand to make his acquaintance again and I’ll certainly now re-read The Grapes of Wrath and some of his other works. Steinbeck tells a hell of a story and I devoured East of Eden, all 602 pages of it, even the longish philosophical discussions between Adam Trask, Samuel Hamilton, and Lee. I hung on every development in the characters’ lives, happy, excited, or sad right along with them . . . I cared, as if these were people I loved and had grown up with. It’s rare for me, as an adult, to experience fictional characters as real people; Steinbeck had a great gift, and novels like this are few and far between today.

“Ungodly and obscene.” That’s how school board officials in Anniston, Alabama described East of Eden when they banned it in 1982. Really? An extended retelling of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel ungodly?

It’s difficult for a reader in 2010 to discern what was so objectionable about Steinbeck’s work to school officials. One would think they would have been so busy counting each of the 782 instances of the word “fuck” in The Catcher in the Rye they wouldn’t have time left over to worry about the occasional “damn” or “whore” in East of Eden, but apparently book censors never rest.

Personally, I think it would be wonderful if people started reading Steinbeck again.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule (19+ / 0-)





    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
    SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
    Sun 2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
    Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
    Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
    MON
    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
    alternate Thursdays 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
    Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- but Still Desirable shortfinals
    SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
    Sat 11:00 AM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
    Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

  •  But I want my children to read only books (15+ / 0-)

    that have the world existing for 5,000 years!

    And by the way, it was Adam and EVE, not Adam and STEVE! .....and my grandfather was no monkey!

    Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a meal of chemically-enhanced processed food and an over-abundance of transfat and sugar to eat...

    -4.75, -5.33 Cheney 10/05/04: "I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

    by sunbro on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 09:12:40 AM PDT

  •  Well, it wasn't really banned (7+ / 0-)

    Part-time Indian was just taken off a summer required reading list for 6th graders.  I think that "banned" has a specific meaning which is not met here--nor in most of the other examples of "banned books" I typically see.

    At any rate, it was a required book for my son's 8th grade lit class and he definitely liked it.  But maybe 11-year-olds are a bit too young.  That is a legit argument.  Not the same as banning.

    •  It's a "ymmv" age group (4+ / 0-)

      Some 6th graders are ready to read just about anything, and others are still into "Wimpy Kid" books.

      Life is short and time is cruel, but I can't help seeing the glass half-full. --Kevin Fisher

      by Sonnet on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 10:03:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Well technically alcohol wasn't banned during (4+ / 0-)

      prohibition either.  After all, even if a book is "banned" in most cases you are still free to drive to another county or state and buy a copy for personal use (you just can't sell or lend it to anyone else as it is only the sale or distribution of that book that is illegal, not mere possession).

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 10:08:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I explain my use of the word "banned" (5+ / 0-)

      every few YCRT! diaries. My position is that any time someone tries to keep people from reading a book, the intent is to ban ... even if the ban applies only to one sixth grade classroom in some backwater town.

      The US Post Office once banned books like Tropic of Cancer. People would advance the argument that it wasn't really banned, because you could always hop on an ocean liner, go to Paris, and buy a copy there.

      The same argument remains in use today: you can still buy Sherman Alexie's book at B&N, so what's the problem? The problem is that people are trying to prevent other people from reading it. They can't ban B&N from selling it, but perhaps they can get it removed from a school district's summer reading list. The intent is the same. The intent is to ban.

      •  If that's banning we need to find another word (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        when books are actually banned.

        Your definition is misleading.  In many instances you cannot infer intent.  The son I mentioned above, when starting high school the next year, was mailed a booklet by the high school librarian of recommended Summer Reading.  There were some great tips.  But there were some lists in there that she had apparently copied, perhaps mindlessly, from other sources, one of which was a list of the "50 Best Cult Books."  One of those books was "The Story of O,"  the sado-masochistic porn classic.  I did nothing beyond thinking the librarian was a doofus.  If someone had protested that they didn't think this book should be recommended reading for 13-year-olds I would have been fine with removing it from the list.  (That list also included L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics", if you prefer a non-porn example.)

        I can still buy, read, and sell those books whenever I feel like it.  But you can't expect parents to never complain about book choices.

        •  You still have to define "banned" though. Is (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, Limelite

          forcing the removal of all copies from the library shelves enough (after all, you can still buy it on your own)?  How about a school declaring it contraband and suspending/expelling anyone caught with that book in their bookbag (after all, they can still read it at home)?  Or how about a city passing an ordinance prohibiting the sale or distribution of a specific book (after all, you can always drive somewhere else and buy a copy for personal use since possession and transportation are not banned, only sale and distribution)?

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 05:53:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Those examples go far beyond what was called a ban (0+ / 0-)

            by the diarist.  As I stated, removing a book from a required reading list for 6th graders is not a ban.

            Among the hypotheticals you list, the ordinance "prohibiting the sale or distribution of a specific book" would certainly pass my criteria for "banning."  

            Removing certain books from a public library comes close enough.  

            When it gets down to schools, though, and minors, there are different issues.  It is impossible to make a generalizable rule.

        •  I Think You're Verging on Banning the Definition (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dandy lion

          of "ban" which is an interdiction, prohibition, or proscription, forbiddance, or decree of outlawry.  It is a deprivation of rights.

          And command or directive by a figure of authority, whether recognized or self-appointed, to restrain another person's choice and access to reading material is book banning.

          Among reasonable people, no one understands the word "ban" to mean a parent censoring what his or her own child reads.  But as soon as that parent or any other person attempts to restrict what another minor -- not their own -- reads, they've overstepped their authority.

          No librarian, for instance, should have the right to take any book out of a child's hand.  Either books in a public library are available to the public, or some are banned, which undermines -- if not downright defeats -- a public library.  That "right of removal" belongs to the parent alone, over her child alone.

          The argument conservatives use: "Not my tax-payer dollars!" is specious.  No tax-payer has full control over, much less is entitled to dictate, how his tax dollars are spent.  Taxes are the levy a citizen agrees to pay for the level of civilization -- protection, ease of travel, sanitation and health, access to information -- he enjoys but cannot provide for himself.

          Payment for commonweal comforts does not give the tax-payer the right to dictate who will get what and who will not.  The latter, by definition, is banning.

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

          by Limelite on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 06:05:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  We disagree about minors (0+ / 0-)

            A "public library" is not the same thing as a school library.   An elementary school classroom is not the same thing as a private home or university.

            Children do not have the same rights as adults.  They cannot make the same informed choices as adults.  They largely are dependent upon adults for their education and safety.  To some extent we are responsible for the safety and well being of other children as well as our own.  That is certainly true in the school setting.

            Teachers, and librarians (as I pointed out above), can sometimes make poor judgments.  Although my kids have been assigned some really crappy stuff over the years, I have never protested.  90% of assigned, non-textbook reading has been really good.  However, if a grossly inappropriate book has been assigned for required reading, say for a class of 9-year-olds,  parents are completely justified in asking for a change to be made.  Often, as in the Part-time Indian book, these reactions probably excessive.  But at some point, even that protest could be legitimate (would you want your 6-yr-old reading a book that talks a lot about masturbation?).  If the teacher is dense or daft then sometimes concerted effort is needed.  The Left doesn't like it when that group looks like a bunch of white Christian fanatics, and that is how these parents are typically caricatured.    But the circumstances vary from case to case.

            And really, if you are going to call any

            command or directive by a figure of authority, whether recognized or self-appointed, to restrain another person's choice and access to reading material
            to be "book banning", then  yes, I say we need another word describe what happens in Fahrenheit 451, or in Nazi Germany, or Mao's China, or the books of James Joyce and Henry Miller.  Of course, removing a book from a required reading list does not constitute banning even under your extremely broad definition.
  •  I composed a summer reading list out of all (10+ / 0-)

    the books the good nuns told us never to read.  Perhaps they should have mentioned the Old Testament which veers into potboiler territory in places.

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 09:41:53 AM PDT

  •  Really? I always hated Steinbeck. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wonderful world, RiveroftheWest

    His books were all so ugly. (Doesn't mean I support censorship of them, but I wouldn't read his stuff willingly.)

    Hemingway, too.

    What's the point in challenging college-level material, though? At the point where people go to college, they're considered to be adults. Why censor materials for adults? Let the kids do their own censorship for themselves at that point, if they're going to.

  •  I called my little local library... (5+ / 0-)

    And they had Part Time Indian!
    Just ran over to pick it up.
    It's next in line after I finish
    'Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls'
    (It is a real hoot)
    :)

    All sane people detest noise. Mark Twain

    by Man Oh Man on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 10:08:04 AM PDT

  •  I did the same thing (3+ / 0-)
    Steinbeck tells a hell of a story and I devoured East of Eden, all 602 pages of it, even the longish philosophical discussions between Adam Trask, Samuel Hamilton, and Lee. I hung on every development in the characters’ lives, happy, excited, or sad right along with them . . . I cared, as if these were people I loved and had grown up with. It’s rare for me, as an adult, to experience fictional characters as real people; Steinbeck had a great gift, and novels like this are few and far between today.
    I was about 52 when I read East of Eden and I think I was really ready for it by then.  

    I also re-read Moby Dick when I was about 55 and loved every word of it.  I just wasn't ready when I was 20.

    Thanks for the diary!

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

    by cfk on Sat Aug 17, 2013 at 03:15:13 PM PDT

    •  That's odd. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW
      I also re-read Moby Dick when I was about 55 and loved every word of it.  I just wasn't ready when I was 20.  
      I read Moby Dick in high school and loved it.  

      "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

      by Calamity Jean on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 01:35:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! (0+ / 0-)

    I'd recommend your diary twice just for the plug to read Steinbeck.  East of Eden is a masterpiece -- and I don't throw heavyweight words around lightly.

    I believe I am more shocked to learn of the books the narrow minded and hidebound want to banish than they are by the contents of those books.

    The conservatives' worship of ignorance is appalling.

    Always look forward to the next installment in your series, which I regard as the embodiment of one of the most important missions of R&BLers.

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

    by Limelite on Sun Aug 18, 2013 at 05:39:14 AM PDT

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