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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Freedom to read at issue again

Groups continue efforts to ban ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ ‘Of Mice and Men’ and others

April 6, 2001

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J.D. Salinger's coming-of-age novel, "The Catcher in the Rye," portrays one young man's experiences with life, love and sex.

The edgy story has captured the imagination of teen-agers for nearly half a century.

At Lawrence High School, "It's probably the most popular, most requested book here," librarian Arla Jones said last fall.

The classroom standard about disillusioned 16-year-old Holden Caulfield is also a favorite of another group the banned-book crowd.

"Catcher in the Rye" made it onto the top 10 list of books that adults most frequently wanted removed from U.S. schools and public libraries from 1990 to 1999.

The list, compiled in conjunction with Banned Books Week in September, was released by the American Library Assn., the American Booksellers Assn. and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

A computer survey of collections at three libraries in Lawrence West Junior High School, LHS and Lawrence Public Library revealed each had a copy of "Catcher in the Rye."

The public library had the most titles nine among the 10 most challenged books. The only book it didn't have on the shelf was "Heather Has Two Mommies," Leslea Newman's children's book on lesbianism and homosexuality.

Question of freedom

Assistant librarian Sherri Turner said the public library's purchasing philosophy reflected a belief that censorship was an individual matter.

The freedom of readers shouldn't be restricted by others, she said.

"We support the diversity of our public," she said. "There are things I might choose to read that someone else might not like, but people should be able to read the things they want to read. The library isn't out to set an agenda for anyone else."

The libraries at LHS and West had six of the top 10 titles. Missing were: the late Alvin Schwartz's "Scary Story" series of horror tales; "Daddy's Roommate," Michael Willhoite's book about the relationship of two men; "Forever," a book by Judy Blume that explores sexual issues for junior high readers; and "Heather Has Two Mommies."

However, a spot check indicated that Quail Run School, an elementary at 1130 Inverness Drive, had copies of the "Scary Story" series.

Beth Welsh, the Lawrence public school district's coordinator of library media resources, said the age appropriateness of subject matter was a factor in deciding which books to buy.

Holdings at individual schools also vary because librarians are primarily responsible for making selections, she said.

"Each building, they're all a little bit different, based on the population, the neighborhood and needs," Welsh said.

The five other books from the Banned Book Week top 10 list that were on shelves of all three libraries, and reasons they're often criticized:

l "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, contains "offensive and racist language."

l "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, "portrays white people as being horrible, nasty, stupid people."

l "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier, "contains profanity, sexual situations and themes that allegedly encourage disrespectful behavior."

l "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "blasphemous."

l "Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson, "profanity, disrespectful of adults, and an elaborate fantasy world (that) might lead to confusion."

Turner said she couldn't recall an official challenge of a book at the city's library in recent years.

But Welsh said four books at Lawrence school district libraries were subjected to written challenge in the 1990s. None of the challenges led to removal of a book from the district's holdings.

The three associations releasing the 100-book list of challenged books revealed the most frequently contested books of 1999: the Harry Potter series. Christian groups led attacks on the Potter series because of author J.K. Rowling's themes of witchcraft and wizardry.

"This just proves no book is safe from censorship attempts," said Judith Krug, director of the ALA's office of intellectual freedom.

Krug said 5 percent of complaints led to a book being banned.

A public school in Bridgeport Township, Mich., removed the Potter series this year. In 1997, Angelou's memoir was taken off the ninth-grade English curriculum in Ann Arundel County, Md.

A book on the top 100 list, Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," was removed in 1996 from an advanced placement English reading list in Lindale, Tex., because it "conflicted with the values of the community."

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