Saturday, December 16, 2000

100 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature

Book cover: 100 Banned BooksIf you are a wholehearted proponent of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, this is a book you will find it absolutely essential to own.

Nicholas Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn Sova have compiled censorship histories of 100 books that have been suppressed on political, religious, sexual or social grounds, and they are truly eye-opening. Many of these books have been censored within our own country, where freedom of speech is supposedly protected by the First Amendment.

Under the category of religious censorship, not only have documents challenging the major world religions' accepted beliefs come under fire, but these religions' essential works -- the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud -- have also been suppressed at some point in history.

Works suppressed on sexual grounds run the gamut from mild language or situations to depictions of explicitly violent and humiliating sexual acts. While I find the latter absolutely abhorrent and choose not to expose myself to this type of content, 100 Banned Books is a valuable reminder that, regardless of your personal opinion of what is not appropriate, it is all to easy to cross over the line and try to deny others access to these materials.

Read this book to familiarize yourself with past instances of censorship, and then look in present-day society for examples of ongoing censorship attempts. The results will truly be eye-opening.

Posted Dec. 16, 2000 to

Saturday, December 2, 2000

Review: The Day They Came to Arrest the Book

Book cover: "The Day They Came to Arrest the Book" by Nat Hentoff
Oh, how disappointed I am that my search on Hentoff revealed that Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee is out of print! Thank God The Day They Came to Arrest the Book is still readily available.

I purchased the two books together, years ago, at a bookstore in Angwin, Calif., and read them consecutively. Taken together, the books provided my first real understanding of the First Amendment and the way it is presently interpreted -- and challenged -- in our present-day society.

I was not surprised that another reviewer uses The Day They Came to Arrest the Book as an introduction to censorship in an eighth-grade class. Written as a novel for young readers, Hentoff's book presents very adult concepts -- censorship and perceptions of racism and sexism -- in a very easy-to-understand way, but without insulting the intelligence of his young readers.

The story may be fictional -- students and parents upset at what they believe to be racist and sexist content in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn challenge its place in the curriculum at George Mason High School -- but the incidents described within have happened more often than could reasonably be expected in a society that includes the First Amendment within its most sacred governing document.

The book tackles the issue of censorship very well -- this is Hentoff, after all -- and all of the characters are presented sympathetically. The people who want to censor Huckleberry Finn may be wrong to do so, but they are motivated by good intentions, however misdirected.

Who wouldn't want a society that is free of racial or sexual prejudice? But the loss of freedom of speech and thought would be too high of a price to pay. And in this case, the people who challenge Huckleberry Finn have missed the book's point completely. It is entirely fitting that a Black character deliver this message, since exposure to a certain word that is scattered very profusely throughout Mark Twain's masterpiece is what the book's censors want to protect him from.

Read this book, and then look for Free Speech for Me But Not For Thee, also by Nat Hentoff. The real life examples of censorship described therein are a valuable reminder that The Day They Came to Arrest the Book may be fiction, but the events it describes are true-to-life.

Posted Dec. 2, 2000 to