Today's post, by Christopher M. Finan, honors Banned Books Week. Finan is president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the bookseller's voice in the fight against censorship. He is the author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, which recently received the American Library Association's Eli Oboler Award for the best book on intellectual freedom in 2006 and 2007.
The story is the same every year, isn't it? Hundreds of titles are challenged in schools and libraries around the country. In 2007, the number was 420. This is fewer than the year before, but the number has fluctuated widely since the launch of Banned Books Week in 1982. The average is around 500.
Even the book at the top of the hit list is the same as last year–And Tango Makes Three, a childrens book that has been condemned as "pro-homosexual" and "anti-family" because it tells the story of two male penguins caring for an egg.
But this apparent sameness masks what is really going on. Behind the numbers are a lot of angry people–censors demanding the removal of books that offend them; teachers and librarians upset at finding themselves accused of trying to hurt kids, and the kids themselves caught in the crossfire.
Book banning is an old story, but it is new and often intensely painful for the people who experience it for the first time.