Don't read these books!!

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  September 21, 2011

The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union will host its annual Banned Books event on September 23 at 6 pm at the Providence Athenaeum.

Yes, book-banning persists in the 21st century.

A group of local authors will read from five tomes that have been targeted over the last decade or so by the crazies that run our nation's silliest public schools and libraries.

Among the offending volumes: The Color Purple, Brideshead Revisited, and Noddy At the Seaside, an old English children's book that chronicles the friendship of Noddy, a toy that nods, and Big Ears, a Gnome.

Apparently, the little pair is part of the Vast Gay Conspiracy.

We caught up with Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, to ask about the enduring power of censorship. The interview is edited and condensed.

BANNED BOOKS SEEM SO 1930S. IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING NOW? It's timeless. What's interesting is to see how the list of banned books changes and doesn't change. You will still find some of the most banned books in the country are those with a lengthy history — whether it's Brave New World, that's on the 2010 list [of most banned and challenged books compiled by the American Library Association], or something like Catcher In the Rye, which is often on the list. But you also have the new "dangers" to youth. The most recent list has books like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and even [Barbara Ehrenreich's book on the lives of the underclass] Nickel and Dimed, which is really pretty distressing.

WHAT IS SO VILE ABOUTNICKEL AND DIMED? It's purely a political work. The usual excuse for banning books is that they're too sexually explicit or contain profanity. But to single out a book purely because of its politics is really scary.

ARE THESE BOOKS REALLY BANNED? I SEE THE TERM OF ART IS "CHALLENGED." Not all of them and not in all cases. The American Library Association keeps a record of all books that are formally challenged in libraries or school libraries. And in a number of instances, the books do remain on the shelves. But in others, they are either pulled or allowed only by special permission.

IF THE CENSORS ARE STILL CONCERNED ABOUT BOOKS, THEY'VE ALSO MOVED ON TO THE INTERNET AND VIDEO GAMES. There's no medium that escapes the censors' wrath. It's something that changes with the times. Shortly after movies became common fare, there were efforts to ban them. It took a US Supreme Court decision in the 1950s to say that movies were entitled to First Amendment protection. The same thing is happening with new media. In the '90s, Congress passed a law to prohibit various Internet communications. It was a very important case and the Supreme Court said the Internet is protected by the First Amendment. And the most recent decision had to do with efforts to restrict minors' access to video games.

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