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Censors Show Poor Grasp Of Literature

As we head into day three of Banned Books Week, the annual observance sponsored by the American Library Association, we need to pay attention to some of the books that have been the subject of censorship attempts.

According to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, some 760 challenges were made to books on the shelves of schools, school libraries and public libraries in 1994. Two-thirds of the challenges pertained to schools.

For example, “A Thousand Acres,” Jane Smiley’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, was banned from Lynden, Wash., High School because, a self-appointed censor claimed, “it has no literary value.”

“As I Lay Dying,” by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, was banned by Central High School in Louisville, Ky., because of profanity and because it “questions the existence of God.”

Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” was challenged, but retained, in the Corona-Norco, Calif., Unified School District because it is “centered around negative activity.”

No less than eight of Stephen King’s novels were challenged in Bismark, N.D., because of “age appropriateness.”

“I Hate English,” by Ellen Levine, was challenged by a member of the Queens, N.Y., school board. The complaint stated that “The book says what a burden it is they have to learn English. They should just learn English and don’t complain about it.”

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, was restricted at the Jacksonville, Fla., middle school libraries because of complaints about its “racist views” and because it is “a how-to manual” for crime.

“Of Mice and Men,” the novel by John Steinbeck, was challenged by high schools in three different states. The Putnam County, Tenn., school superintendent said that “due to the language, we can’t have this kind of book being taught.”

And then, of course, we come to Mark Twain. Both “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” books that, among other things, examine the very nature of racism, were challenged because of that very fact.

In West Chester, Pa., in fact, “Tom Sawyer” was pulled from the seventh-grade curriculum because “it is too full of racially charged language.”

So what’s the point? Try this:

Yes, parents have the right to make decisions about how their children are going to be raised. But too many censorship fights seem to involve close-minded people who want to “protect” their children by ignoring the world as it is.

And ignorance, especially when it is applied to some of the world’s great literature, is never a satisfactory solution to anything.

Writing better

The Idaho Writers’ League will hold its 32nd annual state writers conference Thursday through Saturday at the Edgewater Resort Motor Inn in Sandpoint.

For registration information, call Sandy Smith, chapter president, at (208) 263-4831.

Better paper

The annual Seattle Antiquarian Bookfair will be held Friday and Saturday at Seattle Center. More than 100 international booksellers are expected to show up with their wares; 3 to 9 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $6 and are available at the door. For further information, call (206) 624-0221.

Writerly awards

It took 15 years of research, but the effort paid off for LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer. As co-authors of “Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church,” Ashby and Gramer share the 1994 David and Beatrice Evans Biography Award.

Ashby is professor of history at Washington State University. Gramer is director of news and public affairs for KTVB in Boise.

The award is sponsored by the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University.

On the shelf

Steve Oliver begs to differ. The one-time Spokane resident, who now lives in Seattle, thinks the notion of Seattle as a city of romance is a bunch of bunk. So he wrote “Clueless in Seattle” (OffByOne Press, 137 pages, $10.95 paperback), a collection of short stories that he subtitled “And Other Improbable Tales of Ethical Purity, Simple Snobbery and Awful Stupidity.”

Oliver, who was in Spokane over the weekend to hold a couple of book signings, has fashioned his book as a comedy. As proof, this is his listed audience:

“Literary nerds, computer nerds, friends of nerds, enemies of nerds, girlfriends of nerds, boyfriends of nerds, some orthodontists and dentists.”

The reader board

Eliot Cowan, author of “Plant Spirit Medicine,” will read from his book at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.

Ruth Raby Moen, author of “Deadly Deceptions,” will hold a mini-workshop on publishing for hopeful writers at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29.

, DataTimes

Tags: Book Notes