Banned, burned books celebrated at Red Raven

SANDUSKY What do the "Harry Potter" series, the Bible, "The Hobbit" and "Th
May 24, 2010



What do the "Harry Potter" series, the Bible, "The Hobbit" and "The Anarchist Cookbook" all have in common?

At some point in American history, libraries, schools, bookstores and activists have banned, challenged or burned each of these books — decrying them as bastions of immorality and perversion.

Over the next week, however, Red Raven Books & Curiosities will celebrate these and other controversial texts as part of Banned Books Week. The store will sell them off a prominent bookcase at the entrance of the building.

"Most of the books that have been banned or challenged are classics," said Ali Thompson, owner of the downtown store. "These are books people should be reading."

The American Library Association began celebrating Banned Books Week 26 years ago to champion the First Amendment's "freedom of speech" clause. Intellectual freedom, the ALA says, extends even to the most unorthodox and unpopular materials.

Thompson agreed with such sentiment, saying freedom of speech is one of the principals that makes America great. Consequently, she decided to celebrate Banned Books Week after hearing about the event last October. Banned Books Week traditionally takes place during the last week of September.

"For some of us, it's such a foreign idea to not be able to read certain books," Thompson said. "I mean, can you imagine living somewhere and not being able to read Harry Potter?"

The "Harry Potter" series, in particular, has drawn unparalleled ire. According to the ALA, J.K. Rowling's novels are the most challenged books of the 21st century, with the majority of challenges coming from conservative Christian groups.

In Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico, church groups burned the books for "giving Satan easy access to children," according to one Michigan preacher.

From Jacksonville, Fla., to Auckland, New Zealand, churches and parents have sued schools or libraries to remove the books from their shelves because it promotes witchcraft, Satanism or the occult.

Thompson said she sympathizes with challengers' concerns, but nothing should supercede Americans' intellectual freedom.

"Most of these people who try to ban books have good intentions," she said. "But if you ban one, where does it end?"

Among the other most popularly banned or challenged books in America are "Catcher in the Rye," "Of Mice and Men," "Lord of the Flies" and any book portraying homosexuality. "The Satanic Verses," a novel by Salaman Rushdie about the Muslim prophet Muhammad, is banned in 12 countries worldwide.

But there are some surprises on the list too.

Roald Dahl's classics, "James and the Giant Peach" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," both seemingly innocuous books, have each been challenged in libraries and schools. In the former's case, elementary schools in Brooksville, Fla., and Altoona, Wi. disliked that the bugs, who are "supposedly good characters," chew tobacco or drink whiskey.

Jason Matthews, who was considering purchasing the "Harry Potter" books for his nephew on Saturday, said challenging these books just strengthens their popularity.

"I know I want to read things people tell me I can't," he said. "And do you know what they all have in common? They're all great books."