See not, read not


See not, read not

Society’s proclivity to censor the subject of activities this week
These books have either been challenged or banned in communities across the United States.
These are some of the reasons the book To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in some communities in the U.S.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, has been banned in numerous cities, these included.

Phil Kerby, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, once quipped that “censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.”

This impulse remains formidable.

Since the 30th annual Banned Books Week kicked off Saturday, Durangoans have been reminded that in 20th century America, authors were regularly prosecuted under the Comstock Laws, their novels publicly condemned and legally suppressed, including D.H. Lawrence’s minor masterwork Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Just weeks after an American-made movie that defames Islam incited riots in the Middle East, Banned Books Week’s rollicking defense of free speech – an argument that has been locally amplified by illustrious guest speakers, defiant readings, supportive newspaper editorials, suitably erudite panel discussions and events at all the usual intelligentsia haunts, from Maria’s Bookshop to the Fort Lewis College – has never been more urgent. Yet in an age when grandmothers are reading Fifty Shades of Grey in Starbucks, to many Durangoans, book-banning seems quaint.

Mark Esper, editor of The Silverton Standard, said, “We keep looking for books to ban, to no avail. I’ve done a lot of historical research about this town, and I’ve never heard of it here.”

Andy White, director of the Durango Public Library, said, “We’ve had some people express concerns over a book – usually about its age appropriateness, but no one’s ever come in and said, ‘I don’t want that book in this library.’”

Librarians in Ignacio and Bayfield agreed that the bathetic civic zeal that led Victorian communities to ban books is all but dead in Southwest Colorado.

Peter Schertz, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop, said he thought many people didn’t take book-banning seriously.

“The issue is meaningful especially at bookstores because books contain ideas. Distributing those ideas is the heart of freedom. When people have the feeling that certain books should be banned, they’re disrupting that freedom.”

Banned Books

Despite Durangoans’ consensus that book banning is bad, a neurosis of a bygone, unenlightened and sexually hung-up America, books continue to be banned in public libraries across America – particularly in schools.

Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression, who traveled from New York City to speak Saturday on a panel at Durango Public Library, said, “It’s a long struggle over the way people want kids to perceive the world they live in, over how to educate them, what are the values that we want to instill – and it’s a battle that’s unlikely to end at any point. In a society as diverse as ours in which there are so many diametrically opposed opinions, that’s free speech, you should disagree.”

According to the American Library Association, more than 11,000 books were challenged between 1990 and 2010, with best-sellers such as The Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series attracting disproportionate ire.

Parents lodged more than 6,000 complaints. The most frequent complaints were that a book was sexually explicit (3,169), contained offensive language (2,658), was unsuited for an age group (2,232), contained violence (1,310,) or promoted the occult (1,051), according to the association.

Even books of evident literary quality remain vulnerable to attack. The Office for Intellectual Freedom reports at least 46 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course “Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” have been targets of bans, including Beloved by Nobel Prize Winner Toni Morrison and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Easy to mock

When the Concord Public Library banned Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885, Twain wrote to his friend Charles Webster that the library’s committee “have expelled Huck from their library as ‘trash and suitable only for the slums.’ That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure.”

In many instances, the modern censorious impulse appears as easy to mock. According to the ALA, in the 1990s, the first book in the Where’s Waldo series by Martin Handford was one of the most banned in the country. Keen-eyed detractors complained that in one characteristically crowded beach scene, the illustrator vaguely alludes to the existence of a woman’s nipple.

Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ease of Internet research, in 2010, the Texas Board of Education banned the beloved picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Did You See, mistaking its author, Bill Martin Jr., for an obscure Marxist theorist of the same name.

In 2010, a Virginia school purged The Diary of Anne Frank from its shelves, attempting to protect children from its “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes. The Washington Post reported that it was also banned in Alabama in 1998, with four members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee calling it (spoiler alert) “a real downer.”

Even the dictionary has been banned in various schools. In 2010, a California elementary school banned Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, scandalized by its definition of “oral sex.” In 1987, the Anchorage School Board banned American Heritage Dictionary for its “objectionable” entries, including “bed,” “knocker” and “balls.”

Recently banned

Though residents of San Juan and La Plata counties have taken a permissive approach to the literature our children are exposed to, many Colorado communities – including our neighbors – have not. In 2007, Phillip Pullman’s theological polemic The Golden Compass was removed from the Ortega Middle School Library in Alamosa for being anti-Christianity.

In 2008, Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things was ejected from Colorado Springs Middle School Library, while in Castle Rock, Sarah Brannen’s Uncle Bobby’s Wedding was challenged at the Douglas County Libraries, because it featured two gay guinea pigs.

Calling book bans obviously absurd, Ted Holteen, Arts & Entertainment Editor of The Durango Herald, said, “everything we read in high school was banned at some point. But it’s still something you have to keep an eye on. Any psycho out there who thinks they have the right to control anything that published for someone’s voluntary consumption – if you don’ t like it, I mean, shut up, don’t read it.”

Banned Book Week events in Durango

Today: Nancy Stoffer will interview Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, on KDUR’s “Rim Shots/Off the Rim” radio show from 9 to 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday: “Breakfast with Bookslingers,” an invitation-only discussion of Banned Books Week with regional booksellers and librarians at Carver Brewing Co. from 8:30 to 10 a.m. If you want to be invited, email Libby Culver at

Thursday: At Durango Public Library there will be a “readout,” where people read from banned books, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. The footage will be uploaded on Banned Books Week’s YouTube station. Maria’s also will host readouts all week. Email Culver if you would like to participate.

All week: People are invited to Maria’s to look at its display of banned books and ask about why they were banned.

Challenged titles

According to the American Library Association, the 10 most challenged titles of 2011 were:

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series, 2005), by Lauren Myracle.

2. The Color of Earth (series, 2009), by Kim Dong Hwa.

3. The Hunger Games trilogy (2008), by Suzanne Collins.

4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy (2005), by Dori Hillestad Butler.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), by Sherman Alexie.

6. Alice (series, 2002), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

7. Brave New World (1981), by Aldous Huxley.

8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know (2001), by Sonya Sones.

9. Gossip Girl (series, 2001), by Cecily Von Ziegesar.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee.

Banned and challenged 2000-09

According to the American Library Association, the most banned and challenged books from 2000 to 2009:

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling.

2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.

4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell.

5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck.

6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.

7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz.

8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman.

9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle.

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.

11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers.

12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris.

13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.

14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.

16. Forever, by Judy Blume.

17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.

18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous.

19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

20. King and King, by Linda de Haan.

21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

See not, read not

These books have either been challenged or banned in communities across the United States.
These are some of the reasons the book To Kill a Mockingbird has been banned in some communities in the U.S.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, has been banned in numerous cities, these included.
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