Book Banning In My Own Back Yard

Well, close enough. The title of this post contains a slight geographical exaggeration, given that I live more than 30 miles from Glendale, California, but we are neighbors in the Los-Angeles-Suburban-Sprawl sense. Other than that, it’s pretty accurate.


Earlier this week, Adrienne Van Houten posted at Moms LA about the Glendale Unified School District’s efforts to keep Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood out of an AP English classroom. District approval is required before any teacher can add a book to the curriculum; according to the LA Times’ Jacket Copy blog, teacher Holly Ciotti was stunned by the school board’s opposition to her request to teach the book to her honors-level 11th-graders.

Maybe she shouldn’t have been taken aback; In Cold Blood, a modern classic of narrative nonfiction as well as a landmark in the true-crime genre, has been banned before – most recently, from a high-school AP English curriculum in Georgia. (It was later reinstated.) If you’re curious about why the book’s so controversial, Kim has a “Virtual Read-Out” excerpt posted at at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Struck by the ironic – or, perhaps, completely appropriate – timing of this story’s breaking at the beginning of Banned Books Week, I contributed a BBW background post to Moms LA yesterday:

“The American Library Association (ALA) and its partners have been calling attention to the issue of censorship and celebrating the freedom to read during the last week of September every year since 1982. ‘Freedom to read’ also includes the freedom not to read books that we might find objectionable, of course…but in a free society, the individual should be the one who exercises those freedoms and makes those choices, not some self-appointed educational or morality police. 

“It’s entirely reasonable for parents to be the ones to exercise those rights on behalf of their own young children regarding what they read in their own homes, of course. But as children get older, the parents’ role – as well as the schools’ – should shift toward giving kids the tools to discern what’s worth reading for themselves. It’s harder to develop that discernment when options are limited and critical thinking is discouraged; and sometimes, what’s worth reading just might ‘convey shocking, controversial or unpopular ideas.’

“Banned Books Week calls attention to the fact that the freedom to read gets challenged every day of the year.”

The ALA’s annual updates to its lists of banned and challenged books always inspire some surprised reactions, particularly when very popular works and respected classics make appearances.

At From Left to Write Book Club, Taylor talked about a few frequently-challenged books that she and her kids have read together and loved. (Did you know that the penguin-parenting picture book And Tango Makes Three is nonfiction?) BlogHer.com’s Books editor Sassymonkey is featuring a different banned book every day this week; her post on the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird has provoked the biggest response by far.

The books that show up on the ALA lists tend to vary widely in subjects, themes, and objective literary merit. However, they’ve all been challenged because they pose a challenge – to ideas about religion, politics, morality and ethics, and the structure and habits of society. And if a society – or an individual – means to grow, it’s necessary to challenge those ideas.

I haven’t been able to read banned books during this year’s Banned Books Week, but I’ve been following the conversations and reading about a lot of them. Last year, with the help of LibraryThing’s catalog of works tagged “banned books,” I identified books in the top 150 that I’ve read at some point in my life – some I currently own, some I read years ago (or at least prior to blogging), and one I just re-read. For the record, I don’t make a point of seeking out and reading banned or censored books just because they’re banned, although sometimes, the attempt to censor a book will be what captures my attention. (And some authors are well aware of that allure.) At the same time, I also know there are themes and topics that just don’t appeal to me, and quality of writing notwithstanding, if I choose not to read a particular book, that will be the reason why, not because it’s been opposed by some educational or morality police. That choice should remain mine – and yours.

I do not support censorship. I don’t believe in delegating my right to decide what I can and can’t read to anyone else. I have the tools to make those decisions for myself, and I believe we all have the right to those tools. I also believe that providing them is one of the functions of our educational system. The Glendale Unified School Board will vote next week on whether to allow Holly Ciotta to teach In Cold Blood to her 11th-graders. I hope that they’ll let her do her job – giving those tools of discernment to her students so that they’re able to face the challenges.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9 other subscribers

Shelf Awareness Review: *Stasiland: Stories From behind the Berlin Wall*, by Anna Funder

Shelf Awareness Review: *Stasiland: Stories From behind the Berlin Wall*, by Anna Funder

This is a compensated review originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission. The cover image shown is an affiliate link to IndieBound.org. Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall Anna Funder Harper Perennial (2011) trade paperback original (ISBN 1862075808 / 9781862075801)  History, 304 pages The Berlin Wall existed for forty years as both a physical and symbolic barrier in a city and a country divided by ideology; it’s been over […]

Book Talk: *Forbidden*, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (Faith & Fiction Roundtable)

Book Talk: *Forbidden*, by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (Faith & Fiction Roundtable)

Forbidden (The Books of Mortals) Ted Dekker (Facebook) (Twitter) and Tosca Lee (Facebook) (Twitter) Center Street (2011), Hardcover (ISBN 1599953544 / 9781599953540) Fiction, 384 pages Source: ARC received from publisher at BEA 2011 Reason for reading: Faith & Fiction Roundtable discusssion Opening lines: “There was never a body. “Not even at a funeral. Mourners sat angled to one another in the stiff pews to avoid looking directly at the empty casket and the destiny hanging […]

Sunday Salon: I read banned books…but not this week

Sunday Salon: I read banned books…but not this week

Banned Books Week starts today, but it kind of snuck up on me this year. Last year, I was excited to participate for the first time; I read Speak and re-read Forever and A Wrinkle in Time. Like many of us, I believe it’s important to read and discuss and challenge books that are challenged, and I  think that designating a week each year in support of that cause is a very worthwhile thing. But […]

Book Talk: *A Year and Six Seconds*, by Isabel Gillies

Book Talk: *A Year and Six Seconds*, by Isabel Gillies

This is a compensated review written for Shelf Awareness for Readers and is posted here with permission. A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story Isabel Gillies Voice (August 2, 2011), hardcover (ISBN 9781401341626) Memoir, 256 pages Isabel Gillies believes it takes a full six seconds to fall in love. However, one has to be ready and willing to experience those six seconds. After Gillies’ first marriage ended, it took about a year for her to […]

Typealyzed: Or, who IS this blog, anyway?

One popular tip repeated often during Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) 2011, organized around the theme “Cultivating a Community of Bloggers and Readers,” was “be yourself” on your blog, and in your interactions with the blogging world. I agree and I echo that. I strive to do that here and throughout the community. I thought I was doing that. But the Typealyzer has made me not so sure about that, since this is what it […]

Book Talk: *Where You Left Me*, by Jennifer Gardner Trulson

Book Talk: *Where You Left Me*, by Jennifer Gardner Trulson

This is a compensated review originally written for Shelf Awareness for Readers and is posted here with permission. Where You Left Me Jennifer Gardner Trulson Gallery Books (August 30, 2011), hardcover (ISBN 9781451621426) Memoir, 256 pages The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center took their single greatest toll on the financial-services firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost more than 600 employees. Jennifer Gardner’s husband Doug was a senior executive at Cantor, and was […]

Sunday Salon: Re-connected, and it feels so good…(plus, a bonus BBAW tip!)

Sunday Salon: Re-connected, and it feels so good…(plus, a bonus BBAW tip!)

Most of you know – either because you participated yourself, or because you just couldn’t escape all the posts from bloggers who were participating – that last week was Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The 2011 BBAW theme was “Cultivating a Community of Bloggers and Readers.” I posted according to the daily BBAW prompts on four of the five days, and had a wonderful time re-connecting with old book-blogging friends and getting to know new ones, which was what […]

BBAW: The “Helpful Hints for Bloggers” Post

BBAW: The “Helpful Hints for Bloggers” Post

The world of blogging is continually changing. Share 3 things you are essential tried and true practices for every blogger and 1-3 new trends or tools you’ve adapted recently or would like to in the future. “Tried and true” seems like a strange concept for such a relatively new activity as blogging, but there are some practices within blogging to which it applies. These are a few things I couldn’t blog without: A feed reader: […]

BBAW: What Blogging Has Done to My Reading

BBAW: What Blogging Has Done to My Reading

Book bloggers blog because we love reading. Has book blogging changed the way you read? Have you discovered books you never would have apart from book blogging? How has book blogging affected your book acquisition habits? Have you made new connections with other readers because of book blogging? Choose any one of these topics and share your thoughts today! I can give short answers to every one of these questions: Yes Yes Hell yes* Yes […]

BBAW: Cultivating and Appreciating Community

BBAW: Cultivating and Appreciating Community

I’m late to the BBAW posting party, and will be making up for it with a two-in-one post today (warning – lots of words ahead)! Fortunately, today’s designated topic is a variation on Monday’s theme – Community – so I don’t feel all that far behind. And as I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post this week, I’m quite ready for this: “Lately I’ve been feeling a bit less connected to my community. There are […]

The BBAW Interview with Julie of A Tale of Many Reviews

The BBAW Interview with Julie of A Tale of Many Reviews

This is the fourth time I’ve participated in the BBAW Interview Swap, and it’s always introduced me to someone new. This year, my interview partner is Julie B., founder of A Tale of Many Reviews. She launched the blog on her own in August 2010, but it soon turned into a group project. A Tale of Many Reviews also features many other things – author interviews, book and blog tours, giveaways and contests – and […]

Book Talk: *The Handmaid’s Tale,* by Margaret Atwood

Book Talk: *The Handmaid’s Tale,* by Margaret Atwood

Book Blogger Appreciation Week programming will be joined in progress tomorrow. When I scheduled the wrap-up for the group read of The Handmaid’s Tale for this week…well, I kind of forgot that it would conflict with BBAW. Oops! The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood (Twitter) (Facebook) Anchor (1998), Trade Paperback reprint (ISBN 9780385490818) (original publication date 1986) Fiction (speculative), 320 pages Source: personal copy (Note: This is the publication info for my original copy of the […]

Sunday Salon: BBAW is Here! Who’s ready for some appreciation?

Sunday Salon: BBAW is Here! Who’s ready for some appreciation?

I considered not posting in the Salon today. This is September 11, ten years to the day since the planes crashed in New York City and Washington DC and Pennsylvania and took down the Twin Towers. It seems like it should be a quiet day of reflection. But September 11, 2001 was also a day that brought people together, no matter where they were. We were joined in mourning and in our resolve to rebuild. […]

BlogHer Book Club Talk: *Slow Love,* by Dominique Browning

BlogHer Book Club Talk: *Slow Love,* by Dominique Browning

So far – 24 years into my chosen career – I’ve never lost a job. My fingers are crossed that the streak will continue, but who knows? The recession we can’t shake has hit a lot of mid-career workers at a point where they might have expected security and stability, setting them adrift at an awkward age – too old for entry level, too young to retire. When House & Garden magazine shut down in […]