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The Literary Rants: Classic Novels Get Banned and Unbanned

December 14, 2016
Aw, not this again!

Sigh! Not this again!

The novels To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain just got banned from a public school library again a couple weeks ago.  I won’t name the school district  which banned the books because I don’t want to pile on.   To be fair, the books got unbanned a few days later.

It has to be embarrassing to be the school district that still bans To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  It’s not like these books are gathering dust anywhere.  Everybody knows about the content of these novels, and they’re still cherished American classics.

Even so, this won’t be the last time these novels get banned.  I’m not sure when Huck Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird are going to get banned by another school district, but it’s probably going to happen soon.

It was offensive language (the N-word) that got these books taken off the library shelves.  I understand, no school wants to get bad publicity for giving students books with N-words in it.  In today’s environment, if the wrong person writes or says the N-word, that person gets fired.

It’s tough to be in the crossfire between sensitivity and mockery today.  If you’re seen as insensitive and ignore the complaint about N-words in books, you could get fired (or even worse, be forced to attend seminars about sensitivity),  but if you respond to the complaint then you can get mocked for being stupid enough to ban To Kill a Mockingbird.  Most people need a paycheck, so they choose to get laughed at rather than get fired.

Sometimes a lack of common sense causes problems where none should exist.  In this case, the temporary ban was caused by a policy that said one complaint about a book was enough to warrant removal and an investigation.  Maybe this policy is needed for some of today’s YA fiction, but every librarian should know about To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Any librarian should greet a complaint about one of these books with an eye roll and an insincere, “We’ll look into it.”

A possible solution would be to publish a version of these classic novels without the N-word.  In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, you’d have to clear it with the estate (and the estate probably wouldn’t agree), but Huckleberry Finn is public domain, so we can do what we want and Mark Twain (and any of his money-grubbing relatives) can’t do a thing about it.

All a publisher has to do is replace the N-word with the phrase “heckuva guy,” and the sensitive reader would no longer be offended.  Nobody gets offended by somebody who’s a “heckuva guy.”  And even though using “heckuva guy” instead of the N-word changes the meaning of the novels a little bit, it might be worth it if more readers become more comfortable with these classics.

If publishers do this, school libraries all over the United States could have sanitized copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to entertain and enlighten even the most sensitive of readers and their parents.

I’m not a fan of banning books, but if you do, at least pick something original.  Here are  a few books that I think should get banned.  I’m not saying these books absolutely should get banned.  I just mean that sometimes on a slow news day you might want to ban a few books just to get the juices flowing, so if you do, here are a few books that haven’t been banned before (or at least haven’t made the news for getting banned).

*****

Despite lots of profanity, my ebook has never been banned from a school library.

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6 Comments
  1. The article didn’t say that teachers were searching the students’ lockers and book bags for the books in question and confiscating them if found. They may have omitted that fact, but I suspect it’s more likely that the searching and seizing didn’t happen.

    Assuming that the school simply removed the copies that they had from circulation, which is usually what is meant in articles like this, no books have been banned. Any student who wanted to read them was free to check them out from another library or buy a copy or download an e-book to their phones.

    Removing a book from circulation is not banning a book. Choosing not to buy a copy in the first place is not banning a book. If it were, then your last line would be wrong–your books (and mine) have been banned from every school library in America.

    Maybe we should start using that in our promotional material. “Read the Banned Book!”

    As a counter example, real book banning is what happened to “The Moon Is Down” in Nazi occupied nations, “One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich” is Soviet controlled nations, “The Satanic Verses” in Islamic nations. The government outlawed owning or distributing those books and arrested people for possession of them.

    When you can find me an article reporting that a child was disciplined for bringing their own copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird” to school, then we can talk about schools banning books.

    • Hopefully we don’t have to devolve back to Gestapo-era tactics of censorship and oppression before we can talk about schools banning books.

      • Fair enough. Books don’t have to actually be banned for us to agree that we are against book banning.

  2. Novels shouldn’t be banned! It’s a form of Communism! I can see books involving sex scenes being banned in a schools, but not for language, not in this day and age. I’m surprised these books are edited with politically correct, offensive word replacements! THEN let the kid read it, although it’s not true to the feeling of the author.

    • Of course I left out a word! “not” should be placed after are in the second sentence.. I need an editor.

  3. I really hope you were joking about changing the works.
    We can’t judge the past by the standards of today, rather we should seek to learn from it. If a book contains offensive words and topics, seek to learn why that might have been accepted when it was written. That’s sort of the point of books, to make you think, to shine a light on a problem in society. sigh.
    We’re all so damn sensitive now. No more sensitivity training, how about some “put on your big girl/boy pants and learn that not everything is about you” training. Certainly not a word written in a book before you were even born.

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