Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias This is the time of the year when newspaper editors across the country get on their soapboxes and remind everyone of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

You remember. It reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

You see, tomorrow marks the beginning of Banned Books Week. It's become an annual event; a yearly attempt to spotlight complaints against books recorded at school and public libraries across the country.

It hopefully is also a time to expose most of these complaints for what they are: groundless concern over content that harms no one.

The American Civil Liberties Union keeps track of literature that citizens have tried to censor over the years. The list includes some works that understandably need some sort of restriction (such as Playboy magazine). But it also includes books that inspire a fit of head-scratching. Webster's Dictionary? (I suppose because it has those four-lettered words in it). Little Red Riding Hood? (Maybe it's too messy, with the wolf eating the grandmother and then the woodsman using his axe to rescue her).

Some books, naturally, are challenged many times in many places. Surprisingly, much of the literature that fits into this category is among the best one can find.

Here, in order of the number of times they've been threatened with censorship, is a portion of a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books in the United States in the last decade:

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

17. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

40. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

48. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

67 .Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

68. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

81. Carrie by Stephen King

82. The Dead Zone by Stephen King

83. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

87. Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford

90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

95. Christine by Stephen King

Poor Huck Finn. It seems that every year someone is trying to knock him off a library shelf.

People who fail to realize that the story, now an American classic, depicts how a young boy comes to recognize that slavery is inherently wrong, and that people are equal, regardless of skin color.

Huck saw other ugly things, too, and learned from them. He learned about the darker side of human nature by witnessing numerous examples of human greed and depravity as he traveled through river towns on the Mississippi.

Twain forces us to see all of ugly stuff, too, through young Huck's eyes. It's a heavy dose of true human nature. Maybe that's why the book is always threatened with censorship.

Frankly, though, I'm growing a bit weary of Banned Books Week. Don't get me wrong. I'll always be against censorship of the written word, particularly those works that contribute the most to our minds and society as a whole.

But Banned Books Week is getting to be, well, a bit trite. Just about every year, it seems, one can count on the same classic works of literature being threatened with censorship.

But instead of getting all worked up into a lather about that, we should simply pause for a moment and come to the simple realization that even if one of these great works is ever banned from a some library in some American community, they will always be available in a bookstore, on a college campus, in a personal library. Great literature is eternal.

I'd rather see the nation shift its focus away from the same great works of literature year and year, and try to clean up one of our most popular forms of expression today.

It would be interesting if we could reach back in time, snatch Twain from behind the wheel of a steamboat on the Mississippi, and plop him in an easy chair in front of a television.

How would he react?

What do you think his opinion would be of South Park?

In what regard would he hold many of the network television shows that are beamed to our homes every evening, not to mention the stuff that's available on certain cable stations?

One can just imagine him, with his mustache twitching, wondering why people raise such a fuss over Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Twain, remembering how this nation once loved exposing its kids to great literature, would be shocked to find that young people routinely receive daily doses of trash.

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