Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Banned Books Week: An American Tragedy

An_American_Tragedy_Theodore_Dreiser_dust_jacketEvery year I am saddened by how many books still remain challenged or banned from schools and libraries. According to the American Library Association more than 11,300 books have been challenged since the inception of Banned Book Week in 1982.

Even a book that takes place in the Adirondacks came under scrutiny. Theodore Dreiser wrote his 1925 classic An American Tragedy based on the 1906 murder case of Chester Gillette. Gillette brought his pregnant girlfriend Grace Brown to Big Moose Lake where she drowned. Gillette was later tried and convicted for her murder.

The book was banned in Boston in 1927 when the Boston District Attorney took action against books that presented a danger to the “morals of youth.” In 1933 the book was burned in Nazi Germany for “dealing with low love affairs.”

According to Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director for the American Library Association’s Office For Intellectual Freedom, a lot of people think that book banning is a thing of the past, but books are still being challenged every day in our country. Pekoe points out that Banned Book Week is an opportunity to demonstrate the harm of censorship that is still happening today and to protect our right to read.

I often use the Banned Book list to start conversations with my children about intolerance, inequality, racism and their right to question everything.

My daughter asks how one book can be banned and not another. She questions why The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is banned enabling us to discuss racial slurs. She is able to draw comparisons between restricted materials and when the Nazis censored books in The Book Thief. She mentions family members who have shunned books due to religious conflicts and later recanted.

Banned Book Week continues through October 3rd. It’s an opportunity to discuss books and the difficult issues they sometimes raise.


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Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time. She writes about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities in the Adirondack region.

From her home in Saranac Lake, Diane also writes a weekly family-oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and keeps her own blog Adirondack Family Time. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies.

She even finds time to assist her husband with Adirondack Expeditions guiding families and young adults in the High Peaks.

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