Celebrating Banned Books

Updated-CBLDF-Bone-EmailSeptember has rolled around again and with it my annual tradition of celebrating banned books, not just during the American Library Association’s official Banned Books Week (September 21-27), but all month long.

The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reports having received 307 “challenges” in 2013. A challenge is defined as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book…be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” The ALA believes that for every complaint registered, four or five go unreported by libraries. They also believe that some librarians restrict access to controversial materials in anticipation of objections.

The 2013 Most Frequently Challenged list contains some old stand-bys and a few titles that haven’t made it into the top ten lately, or ever. Here’s the list:

1. “Captain Underpants” (series) by Dav Pilkey
2. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
3. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
4. “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James
5. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
6. “A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl” by Tanya Lee Stone
7. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
8. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
9. “Bless Me Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya
10. “Bone” (series) by Jeff Smith

I’ve written about five of the books on this list in previous years and confess that it’s always
a relief to find enough new material to fill up a month of Sundays. I decided to start with something easy. A comic book, for instance, so I got my hands on a copy of “Bone: Out from Boneville.”

Big mistake.

I opened the book and read the first few pages at least a dozen times. I’d slip in a bookmark and vow to get back to it soon, but I always found something more interesting to do. Like watching fruit flies swarm the tomatoes on the kitchen counter. Clearly, I’m the wrong age, gender or personality—or maybe all three—to enjoy a graphic novel.

“Out From Boneville,” according to the blurb on the back cover, is about three cousins who are banished from their hometown and then separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. Eventually reunited in a forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures, the cousins discover that dark forces are conspiring against them. The story has been described as an amalgamation of “Moby Dick,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Star Wars,” and “Lord of the Rings.” Which might partially explain why I couldn’t get into it far enough to figure out why anyone would want the book pulled from a library shelf.

Those reasons, according to the American Library Association, are the book’s “political viewpoint, racism, and violence.” Since I couldn’t force myself far enough into the story to find anything that might be deemed offensive, I have no comment. But if you’d like to see for yourself, the entire “Bone” series is available at the Putnam County Library.

Thank goodness.

(September 7, 2014)

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