Daily Archives: September 30, 2016

The Scary Truth of Banned Books Week

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Department

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Banned Books Display at WCPLtn

It’s that time of year again, the time to celebrate… the freedom to READ!!  Banned Books Week is Sept. 25 – Oct. 1, an annual week that highlights the importance of free and open access to information.  Yeah, I know we’re also gearing up for Halloween, with fantasies of 5 candy corns, 4 chocolate kisses, 3 tiny monsters, 2 couple costumes and a big ole’ jack-o-latern… well, close enough.  Is it not terrifying to think about the possibility that not only could you be told what you have to read (thank you summer and required reading), but that you could also be told what you can’t read?

That may not be quite as terrifying as having dead pets come back from the grave as violent and disturbed zombies, or having a scarred psychopath with claws for fingers chase you in your dreams, but still, it’s scary.  Farenheit 451 and Brave New World scary (Have you read them? They’re pretty good, and they’ve also been challenged or banned in an ironic twist). That’s why we have Banned Books Week, the annual event “brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek, to publish, to read, and to express ideas, even those [that] some consider unorthodox or unpopular,” according to the American Library Association (ALA).

This week encourages people to look at some of the efforts that have been taken across the country, including the reasoning behind those efforts, to remove or restrict access to books. This draws national attention to the harms of censorship, and the infringement on intellectual freedom.  The ALA really says it best, so take a look at an excerpt from their website:bbw2016_poster-jpg

What Is Intellectual Freedom?

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored… Intellectual freedom is the basis for our democratic system. We expect our people to be self-governors. But to do so responsibly, our citizenry must be well-informed. Libraries provide the ideas and information, in a variety of formats, to allow people to inform themselves. Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas.

What Is Censorship?

Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, “Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it! ” Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone… In most instances, a censor is a sincerely concerned individual who believes that censorship can improve society, protect children, and restore what the censor sees as lost moral values. But under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, each of us has the right to read, view, listen to, and disseminate constitutionally protected ideas, even if a censor finds those ideas offensive.

What Is The Relationship Between Censorship And Intellectual Freedom?

In expressing their opinions and concerns, would-be censors are exercising the same rights librarians seek to protect when they confront censorship. In making their criticisms known, people who object to certain ideas are exercising the same rights as those who created and disseminated the material to which they object. Their rights to voice opinions and try to persuade others to adopt those opinions is protected only if the rights of persons to express ideas they despise are also protected. The rights of both sides must be protected, or neither will survive… Censors might sincerely believe that certain materials are so offensive, or present ideas that are so hateful and destructive to society, that they simply must not see the light of day. Others are worried that younger or weaker people will be badly influenced by bad ideas, and will do bad things as a result. Still others believe that there is a very clear distinction between ideas that are right and morally uplifting, and ideas that are wrong and morally corrupting, and wish to ensure that society has the benefit of their perception. They believe that certain individuals, certain institutions, even society itself, will be endangered if particular ideas are disseminated without restriction. What censors often don’t consider is that, if they succeed in suppressing the ideas they don’t like today, others may use that precedent to suppress the ideas they do like tomorrow.

And just for fun, take a look at the top ten most challenged books of 2015:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

    Banned Books Display at WCPLtn

    Banned Books Display at WCPLtn

Sources:

 

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Little Women’s Growing Up: Happy Birthday!

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Dear Reader,

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Louisa May Alcott

I have a confession to make.  (Don’t get excited, it’s severely tame as far as confessions go.)  I’ve never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic girl-coming-of-age story, Little Women.  I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations, either.  As you might expect, this makes writing a blog about it somewhat challenging . . .

Louisa May Alcott (herein referred to as LMA) was born on November 29, 1832, on her father’s 33rd birthday, in Germantown (which later became part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania.  She was the second of four daughters born to educator and transcendentalist Amos Bronson Alcott and social worker Abby May Alcott, and joined 20-month-old sister Anna Bronson Alcott.  The births of Elizabeth Sewall Alcott in June 1835 and Abigail May Alcott in July1840 completed the Alcott clan.  Readers will notice the many parallels between LMA’s family and that of the March Family in her most widely known publication, Little Women, which was published on September 30, 1868.

lw1The Alcott Family moved to Boston in 1834, where LMA’s father established an experimental school and joined the ranks of the Transcendental Movement with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  The majority of LMA’s education came from her strict, high-minded father Bronson Alcott, but she also received instruction from Thoreau, Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom were family friends.  In 1840, after several disappointing setbacks with the school, the Alcotts moved to a cottage on the river in Concord, Massachusetts.  LMA has described this period of her life as idyllic, and it was in Concord that she first began writing poems and stories and keeping a journal.  In 1843, the Alcotts and six other people moved to a communal farm called Fruitlands.  A rigid lifestyle was maintained at this Utopian commune; members of the community did not eat meat, chicken, or fish, and they wore clothing made of rough linen spun from flax fibers, as they believed it was wrong to take the life of an animal for its hide or even to shear its coat (i.e., wool) or to use a product of slavery (cotton.)  This grand experiment collapsed spectacularly, leaving Bronson bitterly disappointed and physically ill.  LMA’s mother nursed him back to health, and with an inheritance from Abby’s family and financial help from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts were able to purchase a homestead in Concord in April of 1845.  Hillside, later called The Wayside, is the backdrop for Little Women, and the novel is a semi-autobiographical account of LMA’s childhood experiences with her three sisters: Anna, Elizabeth, and May.

littlewomen4The Alcott clan endured periods of extreme poverty, due in large measure to the idealistic and impractical nature of LMA’s father.  Family was everything to LMA, so when she realized just how poor her family was, and how terribly her beloved mother suffered as a result, she decided to devote her life to supporting her family.  LMA went to work at a very early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, maid, and writer.  As a coping mechanism to survive these pressures, writing became an emotional and creative outlet for LMA.  Her first book, Flower Fables, was published when she was just seventeen years old.   The stories that she wrote during her teenage years earned her very little money.  Hospital Sketches, a collection of letters that LMA had written home during her stint as a nurse in the American Civil War, finally won her some critical acclaim, and the publication of Little Women in 1868 brought her fame that exceeded everything she had dreamed of, and freed her family from poverty forever.

6ce3221ebf5ad145ab24b16470467022In Little Women, LMA based her protagonist Jo March on herself, and nearly every character in the novel is paralleled to some extent on her family members and friends.  Beth March’s death mirrors that of Lizzie Alcott from scarlet fever, and LMA’s love and admiration of her mother shines through the characterization of Marmee, the beloved matriarch of the March Family.   Little Women (or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) was very well received, as readers and critics found it suitable for many age groups.  It was said to be a “fresh, natural representation of daily life” in New England, and a reviewer at Eclectic magazine called it one of the very best books to reach the hearts of anyone from six to sixty.  A second part to Little Women, titled Good Wives, was published in 1869, and afterward was published in a single volume.  The next novel in the Little Women trilogy, Little MenLife at Plumfield With Jo’s Boys, was published in 1871; the completion of the series was published in 1886 under the title Jo’s Boys and How They Turned Out.

mtmxody3nzi0mdi3ntc4mzc4LMA endured many health problems in her later years, and died of a stroke at age 55 in March 1888, just two days after the death of her father.  Early biographers have attributed her poor health to mercury poisoning from the treatment she received for typhoid fever during her service as a nurse during the American Civil War.  More recent analysis suggests that LMA may have suffered from an autoimmune disease such as lupus, and not acute mercury exposure.  She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near her instructors, friends, and mentors Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, on a hillside now known as “Author’s Ridge.”   Her most famous creation, Little Women, has endured the test of time and is still widely read and enjoyed today.

 

*Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are in no way reflective of WCPL employees or their siblings. Additionally, the author takes full responsibility for her intellectual sloth in not actually reading the book that she so arrogantly blogs about, and hereby honestly swears to do better next time.

Sources and suggested reading:

  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs (J 92 ALC)
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (J F  ALCOTT)
  • Louisa May Alcott:  Her Girlhood Diary by Cary Ryan (J 818.403  ALC)
  • Louisa:  The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough (J 92 ALCOTT)

 

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