With the recent spate of violent reactions to “Innocence of Muslims” in the Arabic world, discussions on censorship, hatred, and ignorance have gotten heated. An ugly mess of intolerance ensued on both sides, including comments about some Muslim societies’ unfamiliarity with ‘free speech.’ This week, America celebrates “Banned Book Week” and gets to take a good (week-)long look in the mirror.
We all know that book banning has a happy history of its own in the U.S. — see the American Library Association’s detailed list of banned books in America. And really, it’s still an ongoing problem—just look at the Brooklyn Library’s removal of TinTin au Congo from the public shelves (it’s pretty demeaning, but does point out well how unthinkingly racist earlier generations were). In 2008, high school English teachers in New Rochelle ripped out pages of Girl, Interrupted because of their “sexual content and profanity.”
To celebrate Banned Book Week, the American Library Association will be hosting its “50-State Salute to Banned Books Week,” (webpage) featuring videos commemorating how each state exercises its freedom to read. The Banned Books Virtual Readout will show videos of people reading their favorite banned books (this could lead to some seriously raunchy readings, people) around the country. And on Thursday, the New York Public Library will host a discussion with Mike Edison (previously editor of High Times magazine) and Gary Lucas.
So let’s warm up with a look at just a few of the most laughable cases of books’ being banned, challenged, or destroyed in our history: