Banned Books Week is Coming

Banned Books Week comes at the end of this month, but this year it seems appropriate to draw attention to it a little early.  One church in Florida has made the news by planning to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  The plans have been condemned by political, religious, and military leaders.

The phrase that’s been in my head all week as I follow the news is a quote from Aunt Elinor in the book Inkheart:

“‘You know what they say: When people start burning books they’ll soon burn human beings.'”

I’m not sure if I had come across the quote before reading Inkheart.  I knew Cornelia Funke was a German author, and I assumed the quote was related to the Holocaust.  In a way, it is.  The quote comes from a play by Heinrich Heine, whose works were burned by the Nazis.  The quote appears, in German, at a memorial marking the site of a book burning by Nazis on May 10, 1933, in Berlin:

photo by conbon33

The memorial also features a glassed-off, underground view of empty bookshelves:

However, Heinrich Heine was not alive at the time of the Holocaust.  I found a little information about the context of the quote in a book review I read last night.  The words were spoken by a character in the play Almansor, written 1820-1821.  They refer to a Christian leader publicly burning the Koran.

Here are Heine’s words, through the character Hassan, in the translation given in the article:

“That was but a prelude: where books are burned
In the end people are burned also.”

-Miss Sarah

3 responses to “Banned Books Week is Coming

  1. No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century. See “National Hogwash Week.”

    Thomas Sowell says Banned Books Week is “the kind of shameless propaganda that has become commonplace in false charges of ‘censorship’ or ‘book banning’ has apparently now been institutionalized with a week of its own.” He calls it “National Hogwash Week.”

    Former ALA Councilor Jessamyn West said, “It also highlights the thing we know about Banned Books Week that we don’t talk about much — the bulk of these books are challenged by parents for being age-inappropriate for children. While I think this is still a formidable thing for librarians to deal with, it’s totally different from people trying to block a book from being sold at all.”

    Banned Books Week is Next Week

    And then there’s Judith Krug herself who created BBW:

    Marking 25 Years of Banned Books Week,” by Judith Krug, Curriculum Review, 46:1, Sep. 2006. “On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn’t fit your material selection policy, get it out of there.”

    Lastly, remember the ALA does not oppose book burning when doing so would interfere with its political interests. Go see what Judith Krug said about Cuban librarians: “American Library Association Shamed,” by Nat Hentoff.

    • I thought this was an interesting comment. I assume it is automatically generated by the organization SafeLibraries when Banned Books Week is mentioned on a blog, since it doesn’t directly address my post.

      The statement that “No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century” is, unfortunately, incorrect. If you visit the Banned Books Week link above, you can find a map of book challenges taking place in the US in 2009. Each point on the map gives details about what book was challenged and why, including (when the issue has been decided) the outcome. In some cases, books were removed from a library collection and this is considered banning.

      I read a really interesting article about parents’ sometimes strong reactions to books, called “Buddha at the Gate Running: Why People Challenge Library Materials.” The author is sympathetic to parents and their concerns. Most parents and most librarians, members of professional organizations or not, really are a reasonable bunch. I think two points are important to remember:

      1) Just because a book is not right for a particular child, at a particular age, does not mean it is without value. Restricting what one’s own children can see is a very different matter from making a book unavailable (or even “less available”) to everybody.

      2) Children face real trouble in this world. I think another librarian, Josh Westbrook, was very insightful when he wrote, “…kids are living stories every day that we wouldn’t let them read.” Any responsible adult wants to protect children from harm. Not everyone agrees that shielding children from certain books is going to accomplish this.

      As for the final comment about the ALA and Cuba, I have to point out that (as stated in official ALA policy):

      “The American Library Association deplores the destruction of libraries, library collections and property, and the disruption of the educational process by that act, whether it be done by individuals or groups of individuals and whether it be in the name of honest dissent, the desire to control or limit thought or ideas, or for any other purpose.”

      I have heard of one effort to increase the number and variety of books in Cuba by encouraging tourists to bring books for independent libraries, and by collecting books in Spanish and making special trips to distribute them.

      • “The statement that ‘No books have been banned in the USA for about a half a century’ is, unfortunately, incorrect. If you visit the Banned Books Week link above, you can find a map of book challenges taking place in the US in 2009.”

        How embarrassing for you. In truth, no books have been banned for about half a century, and everyone knows that. However, you decide to claim I am wrong based on a “map of book challenges”. First of all, challenges are different. They happen all the time. Whereas bans have not occurred for half a century.

        Second, that map on the ALA’s web site was not created by the ALA!!! It was created by, well, all we know about him is his first name. Yes, the ALA posted it and makes it appear as if the ALA created it, but it did not. Did you know that?

        How embarrassing for you that you would make a false statement then back it up with a falsely attributed, unreliably sourced so-called map.

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