You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! censorship news:

Good to know: five ways to bypass internet censorship and filtering.

ACLU encourages FCC to resist calls to censor broadcast content.

Network hygiene: US military blocks access to The Guardian’s website over Snowden revelations.

“I’m fucked in the head alright / I think I’ma shoot up a kindergarten / and watch the blood of the innocent rain down / and eat the beating heart of one of them.” The case of the jailed 19-year-old Facebook terrorist.

Retail censorship: several stores refusing to sell Rolling Stone issue with Boston bombing suspect on cover.

YCRT! banned book news:

Sorry I missed it: June marked the 60th birthday of San Francisco’s famed City Lights Bookstore, founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his partner Peter D. Martin in 1953; then sued over its publication of beat poet Allen Ginsburg’s Howl and Other Poems in 1957.

In 2009, then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (now president of Purdue University) tried to ban an American history textbook as part of self-initiated campaign to “disqualify the propaganda” he believed was being taught to teachers in training in Indiana colleges.

Alabama parents demand removal of a book on pregnancy & childbirth from a high school library. They say it contains “pornographic” drawings illustrating how to have sex while pregnant. No proof is given, which always makes me suspicious, knowing what some conservative and religious people call pornography.

We know about the cases of school book challenges, restrictions, and bannings that get reported to the American Library Association. Approximately three times as many cases are never reported. University students in Alabama have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with schools in the state in an effort to unearth the ones that don’t get reported. The pregnancy textbook mentioned above is one result. Another is a YA vampire novel found in a school library.

Athens, Georgia school superintendent allows Tomas Rivera’s novel And the Earth Did Not Devour Him to remain on a 7th grade class reading list (with an option for parents to choose another book for their children if desired); school board overrules him, citing “offensive language.”

In Colorado, parents challenge the inclusion of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye on a high school reading list.

In 1976, Steven Pico and four other teens sued their school district in Long Island, NY, for banning 11 books from their classrooms and school libraries. The case was called Pico versus Board of Education, and it reverberates today. Here’s an interview with Pico, still a freedom-to-read activist.

Corning, New York library trustee steps down over “objectionable material,” saying that her Christian beliefs do not allow her to support:

  • viewing pornography on library computers
  • the promotion of homosexuality, especially in the children’s department
  • witchcraft in the young adult’s section
  • the promotion of the Muslim religion without also promoting Christianity as an alternative

Note: Corning library children’s computers are in fact filtered for adult content, and the “witchcraft” she objected to included The Wizard of Oz and the Harry Potter novels. It’s not specified in the linked article, but I’m willing to bet “homosexuality in the children’s department” is our old friend And Tango Makes Three.

YCRT banned book review:

prayer for owen meanyA Prayer for Owen Meany
John Irving

Another of the early reads on my 2009 banned books project list, A Prayer for Owen Meany has been the object of repeated school reading list challenges brought by worried parents. They don’t like it that the novel addresses that part of growing up commonly referred to as “sex”; they don’t like its opposition to the war in Vietnam; they don’t like its disrespectful attitude toward Saint Reagan. They don’t like the main characters’ difficult relationships with God, relationships that encompass both faith and doubt.

They don’t say it, but you know what I think they really don’t like? I think they don’t like the idea that a shrimpy little freak like Owen Meany could ever be anything but a bully’s punching bag. That’s the world these people grow up in, the only world they understand. Funny-lookin’ little guy? Kick him. Steal his lunch money. Yank his pants down. Fuckin’ homo.

In a way, I share their problem with this particular shrimpy little freak. Owen Meany isn’t just a freak, he’s fabulous. I don’t mean Liberace fabulous, I mean fabulous as in a) of the nature of a fable or myth; legendary; b) told of or celebrated in fables or legends. Owen Meany is not part of life as we know it. Everyone else in the novel is recognizably human; Owen is not. Owen is a cardboard cutout—an engaging and fascinating cardboard cutout, true—meant to represent God. Owen is, explicitly, the “instrument of God.” A Prayer for Owen Meany, it turns out, is a deeply religious novel, a fable of faith.

The first half of the novel was, for me, hard going, and not just because of its religious theme (I’m a non-believer); I thought it repetitive and wordy. Almost everything that was going to happen later was introduced in the first two or three chapters, but in the manner of television news show teasers. If I wanted to learn more, I had to wait for it. Eventually I was rewarded, and unlike the breathless stories the News at Ten anchors eventually get around to covering, richly so. Once A Prayer for Owen Meany got its hooks in—for me that was about halfway through—it never let go.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, for all its faults, is a great, rewarding read.

© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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