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Banned Books Week

Last week I had the privilege of participating in an ACLU sponsored event in support of the American Library Association‘s Banned Books Week. There is an active effort in this country to “protect” its citizens from works such as:

• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
• Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
• The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
• Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
• Where’s Waldo by Martin Hanford

(selected from The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000)

Along with Judy Hart and her Angels Theatre Company I participated in two public readings of banned books. Amy Miller of the ACLU moderated the event which consisted of banned music, 10 readings by 4 actors (including me) and an audience discussion. I read Heather Has Two Mommies in its entirety and an excerpt from The Giver by Lois Lowry.

The Omaha reading was at the Reading Grounds, a new bookstore a few blocks from us where I’ll be hosting a Darden Smith concert in January. It’s a great bookstore—a liberal-thinking outfit which feels really out of place in Omaha. It would fit better in Berkeley than Omaha. But they say they’re makin’ it—of which I’m glad. It’s now my local coffee shop and bookstore. Won’t go anywhere else unless I’m looking for a programming or business book.

Both readings left me wanting slightly. It’s tough to be liberal sometimes. The discussions which accompanied the discussions would often become diverted by personal hang-ups:

“Well, the reason Harry Potter is banned is because of the war in Iraq. Bush is such an…”


“Well, I know people like that and they’ve got their gas guzzling SUVs….”.

Well, I’m exaggerating a bit for brevity’s sake, but still. What is wrong with us liberals?

Events like this often leave me feeling like I’ve done not much more than preach to the choir. Reflecting on it, though, a lot of the people who attended these events didn’t realize that there’s an on-going banned book list being maintained. Like me, they believed it was something which was done away with in the middle of the last century. So maybe I opened up some eyes.

Wait a minute. At the very least I opened up my own. And that’s something, isn’t it?

I learned things like:
To keep people from reading banned books, people will go to libraries, check them out, and never return them–opting to pay for the book rather than have them accessible to the public.
Children’s books like Heather Has Two Mommies will often be shelved with the adult books.
People still burn books.

Hm. I guess activism is kinda like church. You preach to a congregation (or just the choir of it) about the evils of the world and how to fight them. The congregation builds some momentum in a certain direction, and hopefully slight change slowly emanates from them as a body. It’s edifying—reminding you you’re not alone in your beliefs.

All in all, I’m glad I participated. I made some new friends, got out of the house for a bit, and got to do a little work in front of an audience.

Now: go to your local bookstore, buy a banned book, read it to your kid.


  1. jefito wrote:

    First of all: “Where’s Waldo?” Really? What’s the problem there?

    Second: Leah is right now reading a John Irving book including a character named Rahul who is described as “hairless” and “sexually ambiguous.” Clearly, Irving took some creative license with the “hairless” part; however, you may wish to do a little book-banning of your own here.

    Saturday, October 8, 2005 at 5:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Mr. A wrote:

    Where’s Waldo?: Challenged at the Public Libraries of Saginaw, Mich. (1989), Removed from the Springs Public School library in East Hampton, N.Y. (1993) because there is a tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach wearing a bikini bottom but no top. Yes, but did they find Waldo?

    See more here: Forbidden Library

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  3. Mr. A wrote:

    Oh, and is this a new Irving book? ’cause I had all those things taken care of.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  4. Wifety wrote:

    Yay for banned books!
    Yay for hairy sexy husband!
    Yay for French beaches!

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  5. jefito wrote:

    It’s an older book. “A Son of the Circus.” Apparently your namesake eventually undergoes a sex change operation.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005 at 8:44 am | Permalink

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