Thursday, January 02, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 36

Happy New Year to everyone, and welcome back for what is the very first issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature to be published this year. Because this is a bit of special occasion after all, we decided to explore one topic through three articles, something we may perhaps do again in the future… for now though, that topic is book censorship. Each of the three articles below explores a certain aspect of it, whether it’s the state of censorship in modern schools or its place in North American history.

The First Ban

Censorship in relation to books has to start somewhere, like most things in this life. As it happens, we have more than enough knowledge to trace our way back to the very first book that was banned by the United States, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the author’s crime consisted of heresy.
America’s First Banned Book
In honor of Banned Books Week (September 22-28, 2013), I’d like to share the story of the first banned book in the American colonies, courtesy of the Springfield, Massachusetts Library.

The first book banned in the New England colonies was written by William Pynchon, founder of Springfield, Massachusetts.

His book was published in London in 1650 (about a decade after the Bay Psalm Book) under the title “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption” and was promptly banned for heresy upon its arrival in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Pynchon apparently “argued a point of Puritan doctrine that was opposed to the usual teachings of the ministers and leaders” which doesn’t sound particularly scandalous but then again it didn’t take much to be labeled a heretic by the 17th century Puritans.

A day of ‘fasting and humiliation’ was also proclaimed, in order for the populace to consider how Satan had prevailed among them by ‘drawing away some . . . to the profession and practize of straunge opinions.’ According to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, in a paper read to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1931, only four copies escaped the flames, one of which is in the collection of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.
Read full article: Ephemeris - America’s First Banned Book

William Pynchon

Literature and Modern Education

At this stage in human evolution, it feels rather counterintuitive to try and progress while at the same time forbidding access to knowledge. Unfortunately, that is the exact situation many schools in the United States are in; books are banned increasingly frequently, with there being 49 bans in over 29 states.
Book bannings on the rise in US schools, says anti-censorship group
An anti-censorship group in America has reported a flurry of attempted book bannings in the last quarter of the year and has said there are increasing numbers of books being taken off school shelves that deal with race or sexuality or are written by "minority" authors.

The Kids' Right to Read Project (KRRP) is part of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and says in November alone they dealt with three times the average number of incidents. To date in 2013, KRRP investigated 49 book bannings or removals from shelves in 29 states, a 53% increase in activity from last year. In the last half of the year the project challenged 31 incidents compared to 14 in the same period last year.

Acacia O'Connor of the KRRP said, "Whether or not patterns like this are the result of co-ordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say. But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask 'what is going on out there?'"

Among the books which have been complained about were Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima.

Most of the challengers were parents of district students or library patrons, though a handful were local or state government officials. Of the more than two dozen incidents KRRP faced from September to December, the majority involved materials used in classroom instruction.

"It has been a sprint since the beginning of the school year," said O'Connor. "We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block."
Read full article: The Guardian - Book bannings on the rise in US schools, says anti-censorship group

Fighting the censors ... Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has faced numerous attempts to ban it. Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

A War of Ideology

I won’t speculate as to what the government is trying to achieve with all these bans (I’m sure our readers are more than capable of that), but it has to be noted that most of the banned books deal with heavy themes such as sexuality and race relations… what’s more, most of the banned authors are part of minority groups.

Though it is less visible these days, it feels as if a war between races and classes rages on, catching countless innocents in the process, and now, destroying our knowledge.
Schools Increasingly Banning Books that Deal With Race and Sexuality
Well, to put it bluntly, this completely sucks: anti-censorship group The Kids' Right to Read Project (KRRP) has reported that U.S. schools are increasingly banning books that deal with race or sexuality and books written by "minority" authors.

A fun anecdote from my own life: in my high school, this horrible man went on a rampage and demanded that July's People by South African author Nadine Gordimer be removed from the 11th grade English syllabus because there was a period sex scene in it. And then I ended up at the same college as someone from my high school graduating class and she literally asked someone, "What's apar-thee-id?" WHAT'S. APAR-THEE-ID. It confounds me to this very day. So, yeah, banning books is patently atrocious. Ignorance and small-mindedness should not be allowed to proliferate in this way.

On the bright side, the KRRP has seen its share of successes in knocking down bans this year. "It's been a sprint since the beginning of the year," O'Connor told the Guardian. "We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block." They've really been busy — a look at the "Activities" section of their website is a veritable roster of victories.

Read full article: - Schools Increasingly Banning Books that Deal With Race and Sexuality

And so folks, this is the for the first issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature for the year 2014. As always, you can expect us to return next week for more news coming from the exciting world of books. In the meantime, perhaps you could have a crack at one of those banned books and see what all the fuss is about for yourself. Until next time, and happy readings!

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