Monday, September 23, 2013

Booknotes — Banned Books Update

We’re in the middle of Banned Book Week.  Independent Bookstores and libraries are busy promoting books that many people don’t want you to read — books by such legends a Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ray Bradbury.

Banned Book Week
September 22 — 28

North Carolina was right on time when, according to the Los Angeles Times, a county school board member joined the majority to ban Ralph Ellison’s classic about American racial attitudes.  Invisible Man won the National Book Award in 1953.  One of the board members couldn’t “…find any literary value” in a book that a national critics’ poll (1965) declared the “greatest American novel written since World War II.”

It’s not all that surprising to hear about literary censorship in the South, particularly if the subject is at least partially about racism. It is more fun to talk about the unexpected.  NUVO, an alternative weekly in Indianapolis, reported some strange goings-on in the red state’s capitol.  Not only did the anti-evolution, anti-gay governor Mike Pence officially proclaim Banned Book Week in Indiana, the first lady read from the often-banned children’s book Harriet the Spy at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.  The book has been criticized and challenged for its alleged portrayal of the main character as a disobedient child with lesbian overtones (or undertones?).
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Indianapolis

Indiana’s previous governor, Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was in the censorship spotlight recently by revelations that while in the state’s highest office he searched for ways to remove books by historian Howard Zinn from college curriculums.

Incidentally, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library honors the Indiana author of Slaughterhoue Five, banned by the state of Missouri and one of the most challenged, as well as honored books in American literature.  The library, featuring a week-long program on the subject of censorship, opened two years ago.

September 26, 2013 UPDATE:  The decision in North Carolina to ban Invisible Man was reversed today. The book is back on the shelves.

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