September 24, 2013. It’s Banned Books Week, Sept. 22-28. And it’s fitting that it immediately follows US Constitution Week since both have one major theme in common – ensuring freedom of speech. Most Americans believe that the US government doesn’t ban books. But that’s not entirely true. Government agencies such as libraries and school systems are some of the most prolific book banners in the country.
It's Banned Books Week - Sept. 22-28. Image courtesy of the American Library Assoc.
When Whiteout Press first launched just over two years ago, we gave ourselves one simple self-imposed mandate – to report the news that America’s corporate-owned media is blacking out. As our tag line has proudly proclaimed since day one, “If it’s blacked-out, covered-up or censored, you can find it here.” Banned Books Week definitely falls under that column.
Banned Books Week
Since the United States government doesn’t have a Division of Book Censorship, it relies on all the other individual agencies to do the censoring. And for the most part, America has been lucky in the sense that books here are generally banned for safety reasons and not political. If you can legally publish ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’, complete with instructions on how to make homemade bombs, you should be able to publish just about anything.
But that’s not always the case. The most recent attempt by the US government to ban a book was the recently published, ‘No Easy Day’ by Mark Owen. Owen is the pen name used by a former member of US Navy Seal Team Six – the elite and secret special forces unit that carries out America’s most dangerous and covert military actions. Owen’s book documents in great detail the days, hours and minutes in which he participated in the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Since the release of his book last year however, the author has become a hunted and marked man. First, the US military threatened him with prosecution for failing to let government censors review the book prior to publishing. That’s a law and a requirement of employment for anyone working in the US intelligence or military agencies. But Mark Owen refused to do that.
Next, insulted and angry government bureaucrats insisted Owen had revealed secret intelligence information in his book that endangered American lives. They demanded his immediate arrest and an official ban on his book. The final straw came when Fox News became the first news outlet to reveal the author’s real name. And that changed the entire dynamic.
Mark Owen, the author of ‘No Easy Day’, was now the target of angry establishment officials, still insulted that he published his book without letting the government review it first. He was also the target of infuriated intelligence community veterans for violating his oath of secrecy. But worst of all, and the whole reason for our nation’s laws against revealing the identity of secret agents, is that America’s enemies would now target one of the handful of men responsible for killing their religious and military leader – Osama bin Laden. Mark Owen was forced into hiding.
Current books in the cross-hairs
No Easy Day isn’t the only book being targeted for censorship, just the most reported on. According to a review by The Guardian in the UK in conjunction with Banned Books Week, the American Library Association admits that the pressure from parents and community organizations to ban certain books has been growing in recent years.
As the report explains, the reasons given for wanting a book banned are almost always along the lines of protecting teens from being exposed to dangerous, sexual or suicidal content. Fortunately, political or religious books are targeted far less often. And according to the American Library Association, the number one book requested to be banned illustrates that fact perfectly – Captain Underpants.
"The news shouldn't be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent" - Mark Wachtler, Whiteout Press founder
Captain Underpants, written by Dav Pilkey, is described by one critic as, ‘subversive toilet humor.’ Even with its offensive language, the book is actually distributed by Scholastic, one of the largest publishers and sellers of books to schools and young students in the US. So while the complaints roll in, it’s not likely this popular book will be banned anytime soon.
The library association reports that its number two most requested book to be banned is, ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ by Sherman Alexie. Showing how much resistance to this award-winning book there is, at least one New York City school has already banned it. The book details the story of a 14 year-old Native American boy attending an all-white school. The author delves into the taboo subjects of childhood sex, alcohol, masturbation and being immersed in a sea of bullying and poverty.
Top 10 most requested books to be banned
1. Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
2. The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
8. Scary Stories, by Alvin Schwartz
9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Most of the above books have been targeted for similar reasons. The most popular complaint is the use of vulgar language, sexually explicit descriptions and the glorification of drugs and alcohol. But others, like ‘And Tango Makes Three’, are on the list because they address fiercely debated topics like homosexuality.
For readers interested in reading a book that could soon be banned, feel free to choose from the list above. Or, consider purchasing a copy of ‘Romantic Violence in R World’, the first book ever published by Whiteout Press and already banned from certain book sites for its real-life depictions. It’s the true story of a typical teen growing up on the streets of Chicago, reliving in agonizing detail the real-life experiences of sex, drugs, gangs, death, violence and much more.
For more information on Banned Book Week, or to participate in social circle discussions, visit the Banned Books Week community at Google+.
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