Why Banning Books is a Mistake

Every once and awhile I hear about another book that is causing a stir, for one reason or another, and which ends up on a banned book list.

I finally decided to do some digging to find out what is on the list and why. Here’s what I’ve discovered…

From the American Library Association website:

Each year, the ALAs Office for Intellectual Freedom records hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries shelves and from classrooms. According to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the target of ban attempts. The titles below represent banned or challenged books on that list. For more information on why these books were challenged, visit challenged classics web site.

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
  7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  9. 1984, by George Orwell
  10. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
  11. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  12. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
  13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  14. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  15. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  16. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
  17. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  18. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  19. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  20. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
  21. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  22. Native Son, by Richard Wright
  23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
  24. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  25. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
  26. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  27. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin
  28. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
  29. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  30. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
  31. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
  32. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  33. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  34. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
  35. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  36. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
  37. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence
  38. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
  39. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
  40. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
  41. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  42. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence
  43. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
  44. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  45. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser
  46. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

The books in bold are those I have read. For a number of other ones on the list, I’ve seen the film adaptations. I am surprised by the number of classics that have been added to the banned books list. How does something retain “classic” status if new generations are blocked from reading them? Even the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is on the list of non-classic books that have been banned.

I some cases, banning means it is not allowed to be on library shelves. In most cases, they cannot be assigned as reading to public school kids. I am appalled that a title like “To Kill a Mockingbird” can no longer be taught in schools – that was where I was first exposed to almost all of the bolded items above. Harper Lee’s classic has become a personal favorite of mine as a result. It carries a powerful message that all students can benefit from. Here is the reason given by ALA for the banning:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Challenged in Eden Valley, MN (1977) and temporarily banned due to words “damn” and “whore lady” used in the novel.

Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, NY School District (1980)  as a “filthy, trashy novel.”

Challenged at the Warren, IN Township schools (1981) because  the book does “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represents  institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” After unsuccessfully trying to ban Lee’s novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory  council.

Challenged in the Waukegan, IL School District (1984) because the novel uses the  word “n****r.”

Challenged in the Kansas City, MO junior high schools (1985).

Challenged at  the Park Hill, MO Junior High School (1985) because the novel “contains profanity and  racial slurs.” Retained on a supplemental eighth grade reading list in the Casa Grande, AZ Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National  Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use.

Challenged at the Santa Cruz, CA Schools (1995) because of its racial themes.

Removed from the Southwood High School Library in Caddo Parish, LA (1995) because the book’s language and content were objectionable.

Challenged at the Moss Point, MS School District (1996) because the novel contains a racial epithet.

Banned from the Lindale, TX advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.”

Challenged by a Glynn County, GA (2001) School Board member because of profanity. The novel was retained.

Returned to the freshman reading list at Muskogee, OK High School (2001) despite complaints over the years from black students and parents about racial slurs in the text.

Challenged in the Normal, IL Community High School’s sophomore literature class (2003) as being degrading to African Americans. Challenged at the Stanford Middle School in Durham, NC (2004) because the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel uses the word “n****r.”

Challenged at the Brentwood, TN Middle School (2006) because the book contains “profanity” and “contains adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest.”  The complainants also contend that the book’s use of racial slurs promotes “racial hatred, racial division, racial separation, and promotes white supremacy.”

Retained in the English curriculum by the Cherry Hill, NJ Board of Education (2007).  A resident had objected to the novel’s depiction of how blacks are treated by members of a racist white community in an Alabama town during the Depression.  The resident feared the book would upset black children reading it.

Removed (2009) from the St. Edmund Campion Secondary School classrooms in Brampton Ontario, Canada because a parent objected to language used in the novel, including the word “n****r.”

Unfortunately, children in North America are frequently exposed to the language for which this book has been banned. As for the book promoting racism…I always considered it to do the opposite; Atticus Finch proves without question that the colored man he is defending is innocent, and yet he is found guilty due to his color. Does this not simply teach about the injustices that persist to plague the colored community in America, long after slavery was abolished, and even after segregation was ended. Like it or not, colored people were commonly referred to as “n****rs” during that time.

Perhaps the real fear is educating our children about our sad history of persecution, abuse and racism? But is our hate or embarrassment towards the actions of our ancestors reason to keep it from our children? Should schools not be teaching WWI and WWII history in school because we don’t like what happened during that time? Should we deny the Holocaust took place because it is an embarrassment to the human race?

In 2001 I had the opportunity to visit Poland, and Auschwitz. Several people I know, who lived throughout WWII, were upset that a young girl would visit such a place. They felt it was best to move on and not be exposed to the camps’ tragic history. In one of the buildings in the main compound (Auschwitz 1), there was a sign prominently displayed inside the door. It’s message has stuck with me to this day…

‘He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it’

(George Santayana)

30 Unusual Deaths From History

There really are a 1000 ways to die, I guess. Here are just 30 of the more unusual, ironic, and weird yet true examples…

  1. 458 BC: Greek playwright Aeschylus dies after an eagle dropped a tortoise on him, mistaking his bald head for a stone.
  2. 98: The creator of the brazen bull, Perillos of Athens, is according to legend the bull’s first victim, after presenting his invention to Phalaris, Tyrant of Agrigentum.
  3. 258: St Lawrence was martyred by being burned on a large metal gridiron in Rome. He is often depicted holding it. Legend says that he was so strong-willed that instead of giving in to the Romans and releasing information about the Church, at the point of death he exclaimed “I am done on this side! Turn me over and eat.”
  4. 1322: Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, was fatally speared through the anus by a pikeman hidden under the bridge during the Battle of Boroughbridge.
  5. 1559: King Henry II of France was killed during a jousting match, when his helmet’s soft gold grille gave way to a broken lance tip, which pierced his eye and entered his brain.
  6. 1841: William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States, died of pneumonia one month after delivering his two-hour inauguration speech in cold weather without an overcoat.
  7. 1868: Matthew Vassar, brewer and founder of Vassar College, died in mid-speech while delivering his farewell address to the College Board of Trustees.
  8. 1884: Detective Allan Pinkerton died of gangrene that developed after he stumbled on the sidewalk and bit his tongue.
  9. 1899: French president Félix Faure died of a stroke while receiving oral sex in his office.
  10. 1911: Jack Daniel, founder of the Tennessee whiskey distillery, died of blood poisoning six years after receiving a toe injury when he kicked his safe in anger at being unable to remember its combination.
  11. 1912: Franz Reichelt, a French tailor, fell to his death off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower. He was testing his invention, the coat parachute. It was his first ever attempt with the parachute and he’d told the authorities in advance he would test it first with a dummy.
  12. 1916: Grigori Rasputin, Russian mystic, was poisoned while dining with a political enemy. He was supposedly given enough poison to kill three men his size. When he did not die, another assassin sneaked up behind him and shot him in the head. While checking Rasputin’s pulse, Rasputin grabbed the man by the neck and strangled him. Rasputin fled and the other assassins caught up, but only after they shot him threetimes. They then bludgeoned Rasputin, then threw him into a frozen river. When his body washed ashore, an autopsy showed the cause of death to be drowning (although there has recently been doubt about the credibility of this account).
  13. 1923: Professional jockey Frank Hayes suffered a heart attack during a race. The horse, Sweet Kiss, went on to finish first, making Hayes the only deceased jockey to win a race.
  14. 1927: Isadora Duncan, dancer, died after being strangled and finally and broken neck. One of her signature long scarves caught on the wheel of the car in which she was riding.
  15. 1927: Racecare driver J.G. Parry-Thomas was decapitated by his car’s drive chain which, under stress, snapped and whipped into the cockpit. He was attempting to break his own land speed record; he succeeded with a new record of 171 mph.
  16. 1945: Anton Webern, an Austrian composer, was shot by an American soldier in Sept. 1945, during the Allied occupation of Austria. Despite the curfew in effect, Webern had stepped outside the house to enjoy a cigar without disturbing his sleeping grandchildren.
  17. 1960: The Nedelin disaster occurs. A prototype of the of the Soviet R-16 ICBM missile was being prepared for a test flight, when its second stage engines ignited prematurely. It exploded on the launch pad killing more than 100 Soviet missile technicians, including Red Army Marshal Nedelin, who was seated in a deck chair just 40 meters away overseeing launch preparations. Automatically activated cinema cameras set around the launching pad filmed the explosion.
  18. 1967: Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die during a space mission after the parachute of his capsule failed to deploy following re-entry.
  19. 1967: A flash fire began in the pure oxygen environment during a training exercise inside the unlaunched Apollo 1 spacecraft, killing Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. The door to the capsule was unable to be opened during the fire because of a design flaw.
  20. 1974: Christine Chubbuck, an American television news reporter, committed suicide during a live broadcast. 8 minutes into her talk show, on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, she drew out a revolver and shot herself in the head.
  21. 1975: On 24 March Alex Mitchell, a 50-year-old bricklayer, literally died laughing while watching an episode of The Goodies. According to his wife, who was a witness, Mitchell was unable to stop laughing while watching a sketch in the episode “Kung Fu Kapers“. After twenty-five minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell finally slumped on the sofa and expired from heart failure.
  22. 1976: Keith Relf, former singer for British band The Yardbirds, died while practicing his electric guitar; he was electrocuted because the guitar was not properly grounded.
  23. 1978: Janet Parker, a British photographer, died of smallpox ten months after the disease was eradicated in the wild, after a researcher at the laboratory that Parker was working at accidentally released some of the virus into the air of the building. She is believed to be the last smallpox fatality in history.
  24. 1981: Boris Sagal, a motion picture-director, died while shooting the TV miniseries World War III when he walked into the tail-rotor blade of a helicopter and was decapitated.
  25. 1983: Five divers on the Byford Dolphin oil exploration rig were killed when the decompression chamber was accidentally opened, causing explosive decompression. One diver (designated D4 during the subsequent investigation) was violently dismembered and pulled through a narrowly opened hatch (about a 60cm diameter opening).
  26. 1993: Toronto lawyer Garry Hoy fell to his death after he threw himself through the glass wall on the 24th floor of the Toronto-Dominion Centre in order to prove the glass was “unbreakable.”
  27. 2001: Bernd-Jürgen Brandes was stabbed repeatedly in the neck and then eaten by Armin Meiwes. Brandes had answered an internet advertisement by Meiwes stating he was “”looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. Brandes explicitly stated in his will that he wished to be killed and eaten. Before the killing, both men dined on Brandes’ severed penis. Meiwes ate the body over the next 10 months, storing body parts in his freezer under pizza boxes. He consumed up to 20 kilograms (44 lb) of the flesh. Because of his acts, Meiwes is known as the Rotenburg Cannibal or Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher).  The incident is the subject of the song “Mein Teil” (“My Part”) by German NDH band Rammstein.
  28. 2005: Kenneth Pinyan of Seattle died of acute peritonitis after submitting to anal intercourse with a stallion. The case led to the criminalization of bestiality in Washington.
  29. 2006: Steve Irwin, a television personality and naturalist known as The Crocodile Hunter, died when his heart was impaled by a short-tail stingray barb while filming a documentary entitled “Ocean’s Deadliest” in Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. The stingray was not the creature being filmed.
  30. 2007: Surinder Singh Bajwa, the Deputy Mayor of Delhi, India, was attacked by a group of Rhesus Macaque monkeys at his home and fell from a first floor balcony, suffering serious head injuries. He later died from his injuries.