Banned Books Week, Busted – The Weekly Standard (blog)

Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual self-advertisement, has now ended for this year. Bookstores will disassemble their earnest displays of “banned books,” public libraries will return to the semblance of normality in public libraries. And we will be left with the sobering thought that, in 21st-century America, there remain people who would ban the works of Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger or Judy Blume, to give some favorite examples. 

Rows of Bookshelves

Except that this year, I’m happy to report, a tiny crack appeared in the ALA’s great Banned Books Week edifice. Slate, a publication not known for its skepticism toward liberal pieties, ran an essay with the intoxicating title “Banned Books Week Is a Crock.” I was, and remain, astonished, and yet encouraged, that it should have been published—and not banned!—by the right-thinking editors at Slate. 

For the essay makes the obvious point that, in this day and age, neither The Catcher in the Rye nor To Kill a Mockingbird nor any of the innumerable Young Adult classics of Judy Blume have been actually “banned” anywhere in America. One might argue, in fact, that the fiction of Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger—or the poetry of Allen Ginsburg, the novels of Toni Morrison, and so on— are altogether ubiquitous, perhaps inescapable. What the American Library Association regards as “banning,” or censorship, usually involves the hapless effort of some lone heartland citizen who objects to the inclusion of certain titles in school reading lists, and complains to his/her local school board. The petitioners are invariably religious, usually evangelical Christians, and the objections are generally about profanity or sexual language.