LMU’s William H. Hannon Library hosts marathon public readings of banned books

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014, according to the American Library Association, include: “The Bluest Eye” (No. 4) for being sexually explicit, “Persepolis” (#2) for offensive language and its political viewpoint, and “The Kite Runner” for offensive language and violence. See the rest at ala.org.

The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014, according to the American Library Association, include: “The Bluest Eye” (No. 4) for being sexually explicit, “Persepolis” (#2) for offensive language and its political viewpoint, and “The Kite Runner” for offensive language and violence. See the rest at ala.org.

Pop Quiz: What author has written the most books banned somewhere in America?

Wait — books banned? In America?

As incredulous as it sounds, 311 books were banned or very nearly banned somewhere in this country last year, according to the American Library Association. Since 1982, when the association first started cataloging attempts to ban books, a staggering 11,300 books have been “challenged,” which is the ALA’s word for an attempt to restrict a book’s circulation.

Every September, the ALA spotlights literary censorship in libraries and classrooms by publicizing readings from banned books. Loyola Marymount University will host such readings on Monday, Sept. 28, and Tuesday, Sept. 29. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on both days, students, faculty and members of the public will participate in a continuous reading of excerpts from their favorite banned books.

The right to read works by J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, Anne Frank and even Dr. Seuss have been challenged in this country for being sexually explicit, for containing offensive language, or for appearing to sanction mysticism, magic or Satanism. References to homosexuality, abortion, smoking or suicide are also among ALA-documented reasons that books have been challenged.

Challenging books “comes from a need to protect people. Whether on the left or the right politically, [book challengers] want to protect people from thoughts that they think are wrong or harmful. If you are on the right, it might be books about sex or violence or inappropriate language. If you’re on the left, it may be books about conservatism, creationism, different ideologies,” said Kristin Pekoll, assistant director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“Most of the challenges are from concerned parents [who] approach a local library or a local school district,” Pekoll continued. “It’s usually a local official [a member of a library or school board] who is the final decision-maker on whether a book remains on the shelf.”

“Censorship is still a very serious problem,” states the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom’s website. The organization estimates that for every book-banning attempt that is reported to them, another five books are challenged, often without media attention.

It also reports an increasing number of challenges to books written by authors of color, to books that feature non-white, gay, transgender or disabled characters and to books that include religion.

Books have been banned for as long as they’ve been written — often by governments to quell political dissent or by religions to preserve their ideas about morality. For example, the Catholic Church created its own list of books to ban since 1559, a practice it continued as recently as 1966.

Libraries have not only censored specific books, but have also been the targets of censorship themselves. The first recorded burning of a library was in China in 221 B.C.

The Puritans were the first to ban books in America. Thomas Morton’s 1637 book “New English Canaan,” which criticized the Puritans and extolled the virtues of Native Americans, and William Pynchon’s “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption,” published in 1650, ruffled Puritan leaders so deeply that they not only banned the books, they exiled the authors.

Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was banned the year it was published (1885) by the Concord (Mass.) Public Library for “coarse language.” Twain fired back, “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it!” But 130 years later, the novel remains off some public bookshelves.

Ready for the answer to that
pop quiz?

If you guessed Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or Kurt Vonnegut as the author with the most titles banned somewhere in this country today, give yourself a pat on the back for thinking creatively.

While each of these authors graces the banned book list, America’s Most Banned Author is actually Stephen King.

Since 1989, 32 individual titles by King have been challenged, many of them multiple times, according to the ALA’s Pekoll.  “And many reports list ‘all books written by Stephen King,’” she said.

Runners up: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (28 titles), Judy Blume (14 titles), and Chris Crutcher (13 titles).

“We need to continue to speak out,” said Pekoll. Reading, she concluded, “is a freedom that is always taken for granted.”

Continuous public readings from banned books take place from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 28, and Tuesday, Sept. 29, at LMU’s William H. Hannon Library, 1 Loyola Marymount University, Westchester. Sign up to participate at libguides.lmu.edu/events.

Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a Santa Monica resident, recently visited the square in Berlin where Nazis first burned books in 1933. She blogs at Living-LargeInLimbo.com and can be reached at KellyArgonaut-Column@aol.com.