Friday, October 2, 2015

Banned Books Week - Stephen King #bannedbooksweek

I decided to touch on horror today for Banned Books Week since it is officially the scariest month of the year (like the spooky blog look?), and although this isn't my horror blog, I felt it was important to talk about challenged books and Stephen King.

I was looking through the lists of Most Frequently Challenged Authors on the ALA site and I noticed that Stephen King is the only true horror author listed. Why is Stephen King the only horror author challenged frequently, when there are so many other horror authors out there? I came to the conclusion that 1) it's because King is probably the most famous horror author in the world or 2) there is a sore lack of horror reading going on in this country, especially among young people. Referring to number 2, it's probably true that not many school libraries actually carry horror novels. I'm trying to look back to when I was in school and I can't really remember many horror novels in our school library. I started reading horror at a fairly young age (John Saul in 5th or 6th grade) and I obtained my horror books from either the public library, or from my parents' books. I remember reading The Entity in 7th or 8th grade. I wonder what my teachers thought?

I also started reading Stephen King at a pretty young age. My parents were fans and we also saw all the films that were released so it was natural for me to become a fan. And a lifelong fan, at that. My parents did not shelter me from books and what went on in them. If I had a question or concern, they were happy to discuss it. On the other side of the coin, I'm sure there were parents who would have been appalled that my parents let me read King's books at that age. And there lies the question. Who decides what is right for kids when it comes to books? The parents, that's who. So, if one parent objects to Stephen King and thinks that his books should be removed from the hands of all kids, well, that's where we have a problem.

Stephen King was one of the most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century in the years 2002 and 2003. According to the American Library Association, Stephen King is one of the most "challenged" authors alive, meaning parents still want his books placed on special shelves in school libraries — or removed altogether. Pretty much every book Stephen King has ever written has been challenged and/or banned at one time or other. According to this site, every SK book on their lists have even been burned in protest.

Here are some factoids on instances where Stephen King's books have been challenged and some commentary on the subject from the man himself:

The Shining
Considered dangerous because it "contains violence and demonic possession and
ridicules the Christian religion."
Challenged by Campbell County, Wyoming, school system, 1983.
Banned by Washington County, Alabama, Board of Education, 1985.
(all from gumbopages)

The Stand
Reason: "sexual language, casual sex, and violence"

Banned and Challenged Books In Texas Public Schools

2002-2003 The Brookeland ISD reported that all Stephen King books were banned in all district schools.

The challenge was brought by a parent, and “…also brought to the attention of the Board of

Trustees.” This challenge was listed as one entry in our main report or our summary tables, since
it was not specific as to title and because of the large number of Stephen King titles in existence. (from ACLU Texas)

Considered "trash" that is especially harmful for "younger girls."
Challenged by Clark High School library, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1975.
Placed on special closed shelf in Union High School library, Vergennes,
Vermont, 1978.

This quote was taken from an article Stephen King wrote which was published as a guest column in the March 20, 1992 issue of The Bangor Daily News. Read the entire article here.

So, just for the record, here is what I'd say if I still took time out from doing my work to defend it.

First, to the kids: There are people in your home town who have taken certain books off the shelves of your school library. Do not argue with them; do not protest; do not organize or attend rallies to have the books put back on their shelves. Don't waste your time or your energy. Instead, hustle down to your public library, where these frightened people's reach must fall short in a democracy, or to your local bookstore, and get a copy of what has been banned. Read it carefully and discover what it is your elders don't want you to know. In many cases you'll finish the banned book in question wondering what all the fuss was about. In others, however, you will find vital information about the human condition. It doesn't hurt to remember that John Steinbeck, J.D. Salinger, and even Mark Twain have been banned in this country's public schools over the last 20 years.

Second, to the parents in these towns: There are people out there who are deciding what your kids can read, and they don't care what you think because they are positive their ideas of what's proper and what's not are better, clearer than your own. Do you believe they are? Think carefully before you decide to accord the book-banners this right of cancellation, and remember that they don't believe in democracy but rather in a kind of intellectual autocracy. If they are left to their own devices, a great deal of good literature may soon disappear from the shelves of school libraries simply because good books -- books that make us think and feel -- always generate controversy.

If you are not careful and diligent about defending the right of your children to read, there won't be much left, especially at the junior-high level where kids really begin to develop a lively life of the mind, but books about heroic boys who come off the bench to hit home runs in the bottom of the ninth and shy girls with good personalities who finally get that big prom date with the boy of their dreams. Is this what you want for your kids, keeping in mind that controversy and surprise -- sometimes even shock -- are often the whetstone on which young minds are sharpened?

Third, to the other interested citizens of these towns: Please remember that book-banning is censorship, and that censorship in a free society is always a serious matter -- even when it happens in a junior high, it is serious. A proposal to ban a book should always be given the gravest consideration. Book-banners, after all, insist that the entire community should see things their way, and only their way. When a book is banned, a whole set of thoughts is locked behind the assertion that there is only one valid set of values, one valid set of beliefs, one valid perception of the world. It's a scary idea, especially in a society which has been built on the ideas of free choice and free thought.

Definitely food for thought, and eloquently spoken, as usual, Mr. King.



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  1. Preach, Stevie K! He is and always will be one of my favorite authors. I'm like you, Michelle--I started reading King at a young age. My mother gave me my first King novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (not exactly one of his horror novels), and I just devoured it. I couldn't stop after that. King has a beautiful gift for creating a character in his mind who, on paper, becomes so real in all the good and bad ways humans are real. I love these banned book posts--keep em up! :)

  2. I'm not a big fan of horror novels, so the only thing by King I have read is "Night Shift," which we read in 11th grade English class.

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