Banned Books Week 2011: Let’s Get Subversive!

Goose-stepping morons such as yourselves should try reading books instead of burning them.

~from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

Every librarian I know has been in this situation...really

Ah…Banned Books Week is here again. It’s something most library staff look forward to, like that last week before the summer holidays when the teacher lets you watch The Lion King and eat candy instead of doing any actual work. Maybe not quite like that. Considering how staid and serious we library folk normally have to be, it’s the closest we get to actual frivolity.

It’s fun because it’s a chance to be subversive. Maybe not in an earthshaking way, but we’re being subversive nonetheless. Letting some little kid pick up And Tango Makes Three deep in the Bible Belt? Priceless. Giving a shy but intelligent teenager a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower  or What My Mother Doesn’t Know? Yep, it makes the job all worthwhile.

Every year I love to look down the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of frequently challenged titles. Some are pretty obvious targets (the Harry Potter series has had a bull’s-eye on it for years), others are more head-scratchers (why anyone would want to ban Captain Underpants, for example, escapes me.) And I ask myself, who ARE these would-be Gestapo members, anyway? Probably most of them are parents wanting to shelter their kids from what, after all, is a damn cruel world. You can spoon-feed your kids “wholesomeness” like Little House on the Prairie and American Girl all you want, but at the end of the day, sexism, bigotry in its many forms, poverty, war, and senseless violence are still going to be out there waiting for them. Pretending they don’t exist only makes them worse.

Come to the dark side...we have banned books

As a library employee and lifelong bibliophile, I’ve read plenty of these dark, subversive, and twisted titles over the years. My month really isn’t complete until I’ve managed to read at least one new banned title. Some recent additions to my compendium of challenged classics:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Sort of a thinking man’s Native American-centered version of the Wimpy Kid style of novels with doodles. Hilarious and true to life. I guess those idiots who think all Native Americans are no-account drunks on “the rez” wanted to ban this one.

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. I’m guessing the Wal-Marts and Corporate America drones were behind the backlash here. Ehrenreich’s book, about her year undercover working hourly jobs with no benefits, is a manifesto for a fair living wage and an indictment against wage slavery. Can’t have our future Kroger clerks and gas station attendants reading that.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. You know, bad stuff happens. Especially if one lives in a third-world nightmare like Afghanistan. This novel was widely condemned for its often shocking violence. But shocking violence is a way of life for many of the world’s people. It wouldn’t hurt to let the pampered American kids in on that little secret (see also Patricia McCormick’s haunting Sold.)

It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing!, both by Robie Harris. Teenagers not only want to know about sex, they need to know about sex. Harris’ books are straightforward and honest explanations in everyday language. If they’re not going to learn about it this way, they’re going to learn half-truths and lies from friends or from the media.

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. A pretty standard teen love story…only both lovers are female. Gays and lesbians in America are both celebrated and curiously stigmatized. Until it’s acceptable to talk openly about being gay or lesbian, they will never be fully accepted as human beings. Reading well-written novels like this one can be the first step.

Subversive reading, that's me

One of the great things about being a library worker is that I can remain thoughtfully objective. Like a medical professional taking the Hippocratic oath, we library folk have a code. If a patron wants to read a specific title, we’ll do everything we can to get them that book. No questions asked, no judgments passed. The fact that they’re reading at all is validation to the power of words, not to mention job security.

Personally I like being a bit subversive with the written word. It’s a tradition that goes back thousands of years to when Greek playwrights were ruffling the feathers of the high and mighty with works like Lysistrata and The Frogs. The high and the mighty today still need to be challenged. Otherwise, tyranny, not to mention mass illiteracy, are not far behind. (I’ll refer anyone who might have missed it to the greatest book on the subject, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, also a common target for censors.)

To all the regular readers out there…keep doing what you’re doing. Think, and read, outside your comfort zones. And those of you who don’t enjoy reading so much, I suggest reading a book precisely because it has been challenged or banned. It’s always more fun to do something forbidden. For some ideas, check out ALA’s website ( or

Or, you could always ask your friendly neighborhood library staff member. I’ll be here waiting subversively just in case.

Read these books, you should

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on September 25, 2011.

12 Responses to “Banned Books Week 2011: Let’s Get Subversive!”

  1. I love how A Brave New World is still on the list. You would think that after 80 or so years people would just accept that it’s a classic and has good things to say. Also, I went to a school where Harry Potter was fine, but Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was frowned upon. How does that make sense?

  2. Here’s my post on this important issue:

    • And I certainly enjoyed reading your post. What’s also troubling about these trends is a growing epidemic of functional illiteracy. (Note to millenials: the ability to text is NOT literacy.)

  3. Thank you for giving me some more books to read! 😉
    I always have three or four at a time on the go (one in each room normally) and did have my next few months reading planned…
    I didn’t even know there was a “Banned Books week”, so will be reading up on that too!.

  4. I remember the days when children’s books by Judy Blume were considered risque. Is the library advertising Banned Books Week, or do you subversively slip it into conversation? 😛

  5. […] Prawn And Quartered […]

  6. I can assure you that shocking violence IS a part of everyday life in Afghanistan.

  7. Hi, there. Thanks for the awesome post.

    Literary censorship is my academic focus and will eventually turn into a thesis and dissertation for me…What I’ve found over the years is quite shocking, particularly since many of the complaints lodged against various books are put forth by people who have never actually read the texts they protest. The psychological and sociological implications of censorship are far-reaching and insidious. Further, why is it that my kids can watch Jersey Shore whenever they want (not that I allow it; what a hypocrite am I!), but aren’t allowed to check out “The Catcher in the Rye” from their school library? Ridiculous.

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