To join the elite group known as American Mensa a person must score among the top 2% of an “accepted standardized intelligence test”. To put it mildly, the members of Mensa are some of the smartest humans alive; so when it comes to all things academic they know what they’re talking about.
Recently, the members consulted on a list of banned books created by Uprise Books Project founder Justin Stanley and were asked to rank the top 10 in order of importance. The list may or may not surprise you and many of the titles have been previously covered in this column. See if you can recognize a few:
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
4. On the Origin of Species
5. Catcher in the Rye
6. Of Mice and Men
7. The Lord of the Flies
8. The Lord of the Rings
Comments about the top winner included references about the author himself. “Orwell’s insight into the malleability of human thought and behavior is a timeless incentive to personal awareness of the consequences of action and inaction,” said one member. Another pointed to its influence on society, saying, “1984 is one of those books that has become a cultural cornerstone.”
Okay, but where is number 10 on this list? That, dear readers, is the subject of this week’s column. It’s none other than the queen of banned books herself, Judy Blume, and her immortal tale of budding womanhood, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”.
Written in 1970, the young adult novel followed Margaret as she tackled many common pre-teen female issues including buying her first bra, having her first period, coping with belted sanitary napkins (changed to adhesive pads in recent editions), jealousy towards another girl who developed a mature figure earlier than other girls, liking boys, and whether to voice her opinion if it differs from those of her friends.
Those sure are some complex issues, but perhaps the most noted is that Margaret’s mother is Christian and her father is Jewish and, at its core, the novel explores her quest for a single religion in her life, which adds alienation to an already tense list of subject matters.
All of this lead to it being one of the most banned and challenged books of the last 30 years. In fact, second only to Stephen King, Judy Blume is the most banned author in American history, with several of her books appearing on banned book lists nationwide.
During an interview with NPR, Blume said, “When I started to write, it was the ‘70s, and throughout that decade, we didn’t have any problems with book challenges or censorship. It all started really in a big way in 1980… It came with the election, the presidential election of 1980, and the next day, I’ve been told, the censors were crawling out of the woodwork and challenging, like, ‘It’s our turn now, and we’re going to say what we don’t want our children to read.’
The number of public libraries and schools where this book has been challenged is astounding, but it was outright removed from the elementary school libraries in Gilbert, Arizona in 1980 and ordered that parental consent be required for students to check it out from the junior high school.
It was challenged in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Fund du Lac, Wisconsin school systems in 1982 because the book is “sexually offensive and amoral.”
Also in 1982, it was restricted in Zimmerman, Minnesota to students who had written permission from their parents. After the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union sued the Elk River, Minnesota school board (1983), the Board reversed its decision.
It was then challenged at the Xenia, Ohio school libraries in 1983 because the book’s “two themes of sex and anti-Christian behavior” were deemed inappropriate.
A similar charge of being “profane, immoral, and offensive” led to it being challenged, but later retained, in the Bozeman, Montana school libraries in 1985.
Perhaps most daunting is that Blume paints a bleak and dark vision of the path that we’re on as a society, “[censorship] hasn’t gone away. It’s growing in different directions… It’s contagious, the desire to control everything in your children’s lives, including what they read.”
The reasons behind these challenges may seem innocent and well intentioned, but the truth is that at the center of the issue it isn’t these topics themselves that worry parents, it’s that we don’t want to acknowledge them for very one very selfish reason: they make us uncomfortable. We simply don’t want to talk about it- especially with our children. Therefore, we hide in a bubble and force our children to search for the answers on their own and get then angry when they find them.
“But if they read about it, they’ll know more than we do and start to question the world around them.” That’s the rationale. So, logically, it means that the books must be destroyed lest the truth get out that their world is changing- socially and physiologically.
American Mensa was quite correct in placing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret at number 10; just as 1984 was the perfect choice for number 1. In fact, one could easily equate the futuristic Proles of Orwell’s classic with the children of today, who find themselves caught up in a war for intellectual freedom with the previous generations, because hope for the future lies with them. Only there, amid the dreams and inquisitive minds of our youth does the power exist to destroy ignorance and fear. However, until they become aware they will never rebel, and only after they have rebelled can they ever live their own life and walk a path of wisdom.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/