Banned Books Week Readout — Recap!
Yesterday (a chilly but bearable early fall afternoon) a friendly crowd of book-people gathered in the Bughouse Square park across from Newberry Library to kick-off Banned Books Week 2010 with a read-out of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.
For those of you who think this sounds vaguely dull, consider this — one of the most contested books of the year was a childrens picture book about two male penguins who find themselves taking care of a neglected egg. These “gay penguins,” and the book they’re from (“And Tango makes three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) have been causing controversy for two years now. In 2o08, they were the most contested book of all. This year, they’ve fallen to the #2 spot, but still — it’s all about the gay penguins.
Presented by the American Library Association, The Newberry Library, and the McCormick Foundation, the read-out was a lot of fun and privided a lot of food for thought.
After some opening statements from Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library association, a young man (who was not credited in the program and who’s name I sadly didn’t catch) was brought onstage to read passages frmo one of the most famously challenged books of late: The Qur’an.
He read passages, while encouraging the audience to read the whole thing — not as a religious text ordering people to do things, but as a complete work – and it made sense. Hey, if you’re going to be anti-book banning, you really do need to fight against the banning of all books – regardless of personal feelings. While I have no problems with the Qur’an, I’d personally like to trash every copy of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” I can get my hands on, but… that’d be censorship, too. If someone wants to read Palin’s (cough, ghostwritten) book, who am I to stop me? Just like who are you to stop me from reading about… say, gay penguins.
But I digress…
Our emcee for the afternoon was author Chris Crutcher, an author of young adult literature who frequently finds his works challenged and banned. Crutcher is a funny, affable man and a clear fighter for the freedom to read. He made a great host for the event.
Each of the ten books was presented and a section of the book was read. (And in each case where I haven’t already read the book being presented, I now want to read the book. So there, people who tried to ban them.)
#10 — The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.
Brad Lash, the technology coordinator of the McCormick foundation, read the section from this book – which is apparently about a high school student being pressured and bullied. The book seems smart and clever, though apparently there’s sexually eplicit talk later on and it’s deemed unsuitable for young readers.
#9 — The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.
Elizabeth Taylor (Literary Editor of the Chicago Tribune) read sections of this masterpiece. The Color Purple is a mature novel, no joke, but rather than banning it why not talk about the issues it presents?
#8 — The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler.
Carolyn Macker could not attend, but a statement from her was read by Nanette Perez (Progam Officer of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual freedom, and the event organizer for the day) about how many young girls have written her letters telling her that the book gave them hope. Then, members of CityLit theatre read selections from the book, which seems really clever and just made it’s way onto my “gotta read” list.
This is probably going to make me (and my friend Chelsea) sound like book snobs, but whatever….
When Roberta Stevens, president of the ALA, finished reading the segment of the Jodi Picoult novel about a girl born primarily to serve as a bone marrow donor for a sister with leukemia, we looked at each other. Then Chelsea said, “I think I actually have to read that book now.”
(Please note: I am still NOT seeing the movie. That is that.)
If there was a highlight of the speakers of the day for me, it would have to be Rick Kogan of WGN talking about the stupidity of banning books, and then reading a selection from Salingers infamous novel – the section in which Holden Caulfield talks about sex and the prostitute. Kogan is a great speaker, a brisk newspaperman who knows the power of words. He spoke about doing work in southside schools and how there was a little girl he met who, living in a concrete and violence world, simply wanted to see a tree. Really, energy is being expended on banning books?
If Kogan were to record Catcher in the Rye as an audiobook, I’d buy it. Done and Done.
While I find the Twilight books to be boring and sloppily written, there’s REALLY no need to ban them. Nothing happens, other than a lot of passionate longing.
Actors from CityLit theatre presented a reading of a section of the book in which Edward sneaks into Bella’s room, and it garnered a lot of chuckles from the audience — especially the actor playing Edward, who did a surprisingly good Robert Pattinson impression.
#4 — To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Mockingbird is the best book ever, and it turned 50 this year.
It’s still on the most challenged list, per usual.
Kent Oliver, president of the Freedom to Read foundation, read not only a section of the book (which made me want to re-read the book) but also a letter that Harper Lee wrote to a local newspaper when she learned a school board was trying to ban her book. [That clever lady sent a donation so the school board could enroll themselves in 1st grade to learn to read. Oh, Snap.]
#3 — The Perks of being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Kristin Pekoll, a young adult librarian, talked about the challenges she and her library faced recently when a group of concerned citizens decided to target young adult literature, including this book, at her library – calling it “pornographic” and “criminal.”
Take heart: At the end of the day, the vote was 9 to 0 to keep the book in the library and place no restrictions on it’s availability.
Pekoll then read a section of the book about being teenaged and dating, as well as learning that your also-teenaged sister is pregnant. Heady stuff, but it’s also real-life stuff that happens.
(Also – Stephen Chbosky could not attend, as he was on the set of the movie version of his much-challenged book. Bring it.)
#2 — And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Finally, it was gay penguin time.
The picture book – in it’s entirety – was read to the audience by the adorable duo of Jessica and Sydney Krug, who are the granddaughters of the former president of the ALA.
Hearing these two innocent girls read this sweet story about family was a lovely, and made the challenging of the book seem ridiculous.
(Also, the girls clearly practiced their performance – one read and the other showed the artwork from the book, like a well-oiled machine. Well done, ladies!)
#1 — ttyl: ttfn: l8r: g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
First of all, Lauren Myracle is all kinds of adorable.
Her first act of business was to apologize for knocking the gay penguins out of the #1 spot.
She’s also a passionate speaker and a joy to listen to. When she first made the most-challenged list, she apologized to her ediot, who told her to “be proud.” You can tell she is. She, like many of these other writers, write about kids and teenagers as they really are – and that’s sometimes tough.
As a finale, CityLit presented readings from her series, the most challenged of the year.
Post-event, both Chris Crutcher and Lauren Myracle signed and gave away free copies of their books to the crowd. I was fortunate enough to get to meet Mr. Crutcher as well as get a signed copy of his novel, “Deadline” which I cannot wait to read. (And will absolutely write about in a post this week.)
Lovely, smart people gathered for a wonderful cause.
The weather could have been warmer, and I probably should have brought a hot beverage, but I have absolutely no other complaints. 🙂
Banned Books Week 2010
September 25-Oct 2nd.
Celebrate your freedom to read.