If you were roused from a fitful slumber this morning by the strong scent of burning literature wafting in through your open window, there's a good reason: It's Banned Books Week, and apparently someone in your neighborhood totally misunderstood what that means. Banned Books Week is the American Library Association's way of raising awareness about book and library censorship, not a week full of drunken, crazed book bans and bonfires (What happens during Banned Books Week, stays in Banned Books Week!).
The idea that schools or politicians or just uptight people in general are still trying to ban books from school or public libraries seems strangely old-fashioned (not to mention petty, wrong-headed, ignorant, and just silly). When you consider all the other stuff that goes on in public libraries, getting outraged because you think I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is too sexually explicit to be sitting on a library shelf just seems stupid. But, as it turns out, people today can still be very, very stupid, and, as this ABC News report on Sarah Palin from a few weeks ago reminds us, the small-minded tradition of trying to ban books, or at least raising a question about trying to ban books, from public libraries is alive and well.
I can see why a conservative Christian church in Alaska would want to ban a book called Pastor, I Am Gay: it has the unholy word "gay" right there in the title next to the holiest of words, "pastor," which, you know, is basically asking for a plague of book-eating slugs to fall on the library. But Go Ask Alice? Have they ever read Go Ask Alice all the way through? Yes, teenage "Alice" uses drugs and has sex and runs away from home, but then she is raped, gets clean, relapses horribly, is committed to a mental institution, and then dies of an overdose. The message of the book for teenagers is very clear: If you use drugs, or run away, or disobey your parents, you will die. Trying to ban a book like Go Ask Alice is basically trying to ban an after-school special, or an anti-drug PSA.