October 2003

Chris Zammarelli

banned bookslut

Reading is a Challenge

I own all five books in the Harry Potter series. It's not that I'm a fan of them; in fact, I still haven't gotten through all of them. But I'll bet that most of the people who have been banning and burning Harry Potter books over the past few years haven't read them either.

It's morbidly amusing to me that, given all that's going on in the world, there are still people in the U.S. who are so threatened by words that they're driven to destroy them.

Take Harry Potter. What's so threatening about his stories? Just the fact that he's learning how to become a wizard. The people protesting against J.K. Rowling's novels believe that if kids read them, they'll turn into devil-worshipping pagans.

Of course, if your child can turned away from the path of Christian righteousness that easily, then maybe the kid's faith wasn't as rock solid as you thought.

But the menace of Harry Potter is so great to enough people that the series ended up placing seventh on the American Library Association's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000. It is great enough that church in Michigan and New Mexico have burned Harry Potter books, and that a Christian ministry in Maine cuts them up with scissors the day before each movie adaptation comes out.

In April 2003, a U.S. circuit court judge overturned an Arkansas school board's decision to remove Harry Potter from the shelves of its libraries because Ms. Rowling, to quote board member Mark Hodges, "leads you right down the road to evil."

Wait until he finds out about Heather Has Two Mommies.

I've always had a fondness for controversial books, especially since it's not hard to find titles that someone somewhere will find offensive. Even one of my high school English teachers, Richard Belair, wrote a book that was challenged for objectionable material. It's called Double Take, incidentally, and it's a coming of age novel, which almost guarantees that someone will object to it. Coming of age novels make up a healthy portion of the titles on the ALA's challenged book list.

That list is a who's who of books I read when I was a kid: Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein and Robert Cormier, to name a few. You'll also see The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and Where's Waldo? on there as well.

Yeah, Where's Waldo? Maybe I haven't been looking closely enough at Martin Handford's illustrations. He might have slipped a bare breast in there or something. I guess I'll have to re-read it.

Which leads me back to the idea behind this column. Each month I'll take a look at a particular contentious book. I'll write about what makes the book controversial and what actions have been taken against it. If I do my job right, I'll be creating a great reference guide of titles for kids to check out if they want to read something that will piss off their parents. Hopefully, their parents won't be looking here to get a list of books to go after once Harry Potter is out of the school library stacks.