From Harry to Holden

Last week was Banned Book Week, a national campaign to increase public awareness of all the books that are — or were — removed for their content. A couple local venues hosted banned book readings, including the Joseph-Beth Booksellers in SouthSide Works and the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland. For the latter, the library teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of western Pennsylvania and 93.1 FM WYEP to host an evening full of local celebrities and challenged literature.

“There are still people that are trying to control what we know about,” said Barb Feige, director of ACLU’s Greater Pittsburgh Chapter. “You need to sort of stay aware and know what’s going on in your community.”

The Carnegie Library’s reading featured several installments of “Banned Books Video Clips.” Shot in 2006, the clips feature local Pittsburghers reading quotes banned books. According to Bruci Boni, vice president of programs and public education at the ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, most of the readers were surprised to find some of their favorite books on the list. Some of the more surprising entries on the ACLU’s list of banned books include Where the Sidewalk Ends, a collection of poetry by Shelf Silverstein; Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia; and even the Bible, which was banned in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1956. The “Banned Books Video Clips” should appear on YouTube shortly.

At the library lecture hall, local celebrities read excerpts from a variety of texts, from Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions to “Sonny’s Blues,” a story from James Baldwin’s Going to Meet the Man. “We allowed the readers to select their own readings,” Feige said. “The folks that we pick are usually happy to [read] — excited to do it sometimes.”

Lee Ferraro, general manager of WYEP, read an excerpt from The Catcher in the Rye. Ferraro admitted to reading Catcher as a teenager after his parents told him not to. “If you ever want to get a 13-year-old boy to do something, tell him he can’t do it,” Ferraro said with a laugh.

And maybe it’s the same with banned books. Each removal — each challenge — only makes us want to read more.

When you go to pick up The Catcher in the Rye off a library bookshelf, you probably realize you’re reaching for a banned book. But what about Harry Potter? According to the American Library Association (ALA), from 2000 to 2005 there were more than 3000 attempts to take Harry Potter out of libraries and schools. Those in favor of banning the book took issue with its darkness, abundant witchcraft, and promotion of bad behavior (skirting the rules, lying, cheating at quidditch).

In 2006, the Harry Potter series was at the top of the ALA’s popular banned books list, where participants voted for their favorite challenged literature. The four other favorites were (in order) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series.

Surpassing even Harry Potter, the most frequently challenged book of 2006 was a children’s picture book called And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, with illustrations by Henry Cole. Tango is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, a pair of male penguins from New York’s Central Park Zoo. When zookeepers noticed Roy and Silo — next to inseparable for almost six years — trying to incubate an egg-shaped rock, they gave them an extra egg from a heterosexual penguin couple. The two male penguins cared for the egg until it hatched in 2004, and zookeepers named the new chick “Tango.” Some schools and libraries removed Tango from their shelves because of its focus on a homosexual relationship.

The top 10 challenged books for 2006 featured a variety of other titles, including the Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von Ziegesar (now a TV show), The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. Clearly, no book is above (or below) the scrutiny of censorship.