Joshua Karzen, of Epilogue Book Co., discusses banned books from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson on Friday as part of an event concluding Banned Book Week. Banned Book Week has been observed since 1982.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Joshua Karzen, of Epilogue Book Co., discusses banned books from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson on Friday as part of an event concluding Banned Book Week. Banned Book Week has been observed since 1982.

Censorship not a relic of the past

Banned Book Week promotes awareness of current literature disputes

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Most challenged books of 2007

1. "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell (2005)

Plot: A children's book depicting the true story of a penguin in Central Park Zoo with two fathers.

Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier (1974)

Plot: A student refuses to sell chocolate during a fundraiser and creates turmoil in his school.

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. "Olive's Ocean" by Kevin Henkes (2003)

Plot: When Martha's classmate Olive dies, Martha discovers a connection and a secret they both held. Martha also meets Jimmy, a boy who piques her curiosity.

Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4. "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman (1995)

Plot: A fantasy story in which Lyra finds herself transported to another universe to find her kidnapped friend, Roger.

Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain (1885)

Plot: The classic story of Huck floating down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, Jim.

Reasons: Racism

6. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker (1982)

Plot: A poor black woman describes her tumultuous life of childhood through marriage, and finally an awakening.

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language

7. "TTYL" by Lauren Myracle (2004)

Plot: A story of high school told through text messages.

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou (1969)

Plot: The autobiography of Maya Angelou's young life and the challenges she faced.

Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9. "It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health" by Robie Harris (1996)

Plot: A young adult book about sexuality and puberty.

Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

Plot: The story of a boy's freshman year on the fringes of high school.

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

- Sources: List of banned books from the American Library Association. Plot summaries from the book publishers.

— As Thomas Jefferson said Friday, "Information is the currency of democracy."

And for that reason, added presidential impersonator Joshua Karzen at Epilogue Book Co., it is a tragedy when books are not freely available to America's citizens.

A manager at Epilogue, Karzen donned a full period costume, complete with a gray wig, to portray the third president of the United States in an event culminating Banned Book Week. The week-long celebration and informational awareness campaign is sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to the reality that even in 2008, books are being challenged and banned across the country. Karzen said that although he would never consider banning a book, he understands book banning still exists.

"The same forces that wanted to challenge or ban books 200 years ago are still doing the same thing," he said.

Bud Werner Memorial Library Director Chris Painter said books often are challenged because of language or mature topics.

"The (challenged) authors are some that we in American literature consider to be true classics," she said. "These authors are known for creating literature that will be part of our literary canon for decades."

Kari Sandvig, events and advertising coordinator at Off The Beaten Path bookstore, said the store stocks 41 books that the ALA reports to have been challenged during the past year.

"As an independent bookstore, we like to present a wide variety of beliefs and opinions," she said. "It's important to have access to these books, even if they are questioned."

For bookstores, it also doesn't hurt that challenged books often are some of the best sellers, from recent chart-topper "Harry Potter" by J. K. Rowling, to perennial favorite "Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger.

No banning

Despite the challenges posed against these titles nationwide, Painter said the Steamboat Springs library has had very few challenges to any books.

"Our community embraces intellectual freedoms as a whole, and fairly universally," she said. "We've never had anyone request a complete banishment of a book or film from the library."

Occasionally, a parent will question the placement of a book in the children's section or young adult section, and a book may be moved to a higher reading level, but no work has been removed from the collection.

"The wonderful thing about libraries is that you have a choice. Nobody is making you check out a book," she said. "We're fortunate that we have a fairly sensible community."

If a book ever is challenged, there is a formal complaint review process that guides the library's decisions.

Painter agreed with Thomas Jefferson in saying the ideals supported by having free access to books are critical to a functioning democracy.

"I think it's very, very important for people to be made aware of the fact that even in today's society and even in a democratic society, there are those who still feel certain literature should be suppressed from public distribution and consumption," she said. "Libraries uphold democratic ideals of freedom that we feel was laid out in the Constitution of the United States."

Although these are high ideals, it may seem as though the time for banning books has passed. Not so, say Karzen and Sandvig. The booksellers cited reports that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin attempted to ban books in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska. Citing two sources, the New York Times reported Sept. 13 that Palin attempted to ban "Daddy's Roommate," a book about children understanding homosexuality, from her town's public library.

"I think she's brought a lot of attention to the issue of censorship," said Sandvig.

Karzen agreed, saying, "It doesn't get more relevant than that."

Banned Book Week has been observed since 1982, the ALA reports. The organization collects data from libraries across the country to compile the list of most-challenged titles.

- To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208

or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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