Since 1982, the last week of September has marked Banned Book Week, a time of celebration of the freedom to read, and reflection on ongoing threats to that freedom; Banned Book Week was launched as a response to the “sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries” that year. Since then, more than 11,000 books have been challenged, with many more challenges going unreported.
One school district in Texas has chosen to mark this week with a good old fashioned book banning.
Highland Park Independent School District, a public district serving the suburbs of Dallas, has banned seven books – only three of which were even a part of this year’s curriculum – after a small handful of parents raised hell about the books’ content. Some of the titles are, frankly, shocking:
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
- The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler
- Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
- The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
That’s right, you’re seeing multiple Pulitzer prize winners and a National Book Award recipient on that list.
Parents objected to the usual suspects – sex, cussing – but also specifically cited “references to homosexuality” and “a passage that criticized capitalism” as bannable offenses. One author from the list, Sherman Alexie, pointed out that some parents may be being less than forthright about their real objections to his book:
The real reason my True Diary gets banned? Because it's about the triumph of a liberal Native American rebel.
— Sherman Alexie (@Sherman_Alexie) September 22, 2014
With Song of Solomon and The Working Poor on the list, we’re kind of inclined to agree with Mr. Alexie.
As others have observed, you can find cussing, descriptions of sex, violence, and other bannable offenses in plenty of works of “classic” literature by storytellers like Shakespeare, Dickens, or Homer. There’s also a ton of that stuff in the Bible. Just sayin’.
The good news here is that the ban is allegedly temporary, with superintendent Dawson Orr saying, “I made the decision — given the volume and the tenor and just the continual escalation of this issue — that we would pause, take the time to go ahead and create the reconsideration committees and do the work.” That means there’s still time to fight this tide.