Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Librarian sheds light on banned books


On the surface, one might not guess the books “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “Where’s Waldo” have a lot in common.
What about the combinations of “Of Mice and Men,” and “Harry Potter,” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Captain Underpants?”
Not much, right?
Turns out, each of these and many, many others can be found on a list of books that at one time or another have been banned in some part of the United States.

As part of National Banned Book Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association, San Marcos High School Librarian Helen Murdoch decided to spread the word about banned books by reading several of them this week out loud in front of the school’s library.
“My goal is for them to learn about it,” Murdoch, a first-year librarian at the school who was a history teacher there for the past 13 years said. “I don’t like the idea of someone saying you can’t read these books.”
From the comfort of a white couch, Murdoch and Debra Eaton, an attendance technician at the school, were reading once banned books “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, and “Bless Me, Ultima,” by Rudolfo Araya yesterday during lunch.
While few students took of the offer to be read to, many chuckled while looking at a list of top-100 most challenged books, as well as the top 10 most challenged and a banned books of 2007.
Murdoch said the most common reactions she’s heard from students is surprise, especially since many of the books on the list are assigned at school.
One example of a frequently assigned book that apparently remains a hotbed of controversy today is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.
First published in the U.S. in 1885, the book remains one of the most challenged books of 2007, while Twain was the third most challenged author of that year.
According to the American Library Association Web site, the long-standing tendency to ban “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is racism.
San Marcos Freshman Sarah Thompson, who joked that she reads so much it should be banned, called the banning of books “pointless.”
As she perused the list, Sarah said she’d read several of the banned books, and nearly choked when she saw “Where’s Waldo.”
Banning books is “silly and childish,” she said.
But Ben Bordofsky, a sophomore at the school who sat briefly and listened to history teacher Vic Ramirez read from “The Color Purple,” said he’s not so sure.
Ben said he felt no book should be banned from the public library, but at the high school level, some books could be banned, he feels, if they aren’t age appropriate.
“I think in certain situations some books should be banned from school libraries,” he said.
As far as Murdoch’s concerned no books are banned at San Marcos.
However, that doesn’t mean books aren’t challenged by concerned parents on occasion, a practice that continues to exist, though relatively rare in Santa Barbara.
A few years ago, Murdoch said the book “Always Running,” by Luis J. Rodriguez, a memoir about the author’s time in a Los Angeles street gang, was challenged by parents of Dos Pueblos High School students after a teacher there wanted to assign the book as mandatory reading.
Murdoch said the teacher was not allowed to assign the book, but it was allowed in the library.
Aside from reading each day during lunch, Murdoch has a banned book fact read over the intercom each morning.
And there is no shortage of interesting statistics when it comes to the banning of books, a practice that appears alive and well in America.
According to information displayed on a bulletin board in front of the library, 3,019 books were challenged between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2005.
About 811 of these were for offensive language, the number one reason, according to Murdoch, for a challenge.
In the case of “Where’s Waldo,” Murdoch said she’s heard one of the busy scenes in the book features a topless female.
But closer to the current mainstream are the immensely popular “Harry Potter” books, which top the list of the most challenged books of this century. Murdoch said the most likely possibility for the books’ high tally of challenges stems from its use of witchcraft.
Whatever the reason used to ban or prevent a book from being read by a student, none are good enough for San Marcos junior Erik Gutierrez, who called banning books “ironic.”
“Books are made to teach,” he said. “All books are valuable.”

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