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Chapter 23 - Alaska


I am a firm believer of not banning books. Sure there are books children shouldn't read because of mature content but by the time a child becomes a teenager they have probably been exposed to more topics than many adults via movies and music. So is a banned book a bad book? When I think of bad I think poorly written rather than content. Books which have subject matter I don't enjoy or agree with, I simply don't read - that is our right, privilege, and choice as readers.

An Alaskan school board recently recommended a ban on 5 books from elective high school classes. These books would not only be eliminated from the curriculum but also would not be stocked in school libraries. The proposed ban is due to their "controversial themes". Here is the list so let me know what you think.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - This books seems like a right of passage for most high school students. It's themes are wealth, privilege, vain pursuit of the American dream, and the futility of trying to recreate the past. The school board feels that the language and sexual references are offensive.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - A pre-civil rights era novel about an African American man, the major themes here are racism, the danger of fighting stereotypes with stereotypes and the limitations of ideology. This was suggested because of language and some sexual content. This seems very appropriate for today.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - This autobiography of Angelou where she describes growing up in the 1930's south, has themes of racial segregation and the walls built up between blacks and whites. The board felt that it gives too much of an anti-white message. Again, appropriate for our current environment.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - This novel recants one soldier's experience of the Vietnam war. Themes in this book include physical and emotional burdens as well as fear as a motivation. This was suggested to ban for language and sexual content.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - Heller's war story has themes which include the absolute power of bureaucracy, loss of religion, and the impotence of language. The board has recommended banning this because of racism, misogyny and violence.

Literature has the power to teach us things including both how people should act and how they shouldn't. It is also a good snapshot of the time in which it was written. They are many compelling reasons to keep these particular books available at the high school level. The school board has held off on making a decision about these books, by the way, because of public feedback. A bookstore in the area where these discussions are going cannot keep these books in stock.

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? Let me know.

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