Monday, September 28, 2009

Further Thoughts on ALA's Banned Books Week

This began as a footnote to my post on the American Library Association's Banned Books week and grew into a sound off, so am posting it separately.

Worth reading is Mitchell Munsy's piece at The Wall Street Journal*, arguing that calling books banned in the US is "loose language":
... if banned means something like "made dangerous or difficult for the average person to obtain"...
since many of the books in question are best sellers, or the work of acclaimed authors and may be available at other libraries and in bookshops, and of course online.

But Colleen Mondor of the Chasing Ray blog who points out just why removing a book from the shelf of a school library actually IS a big deal.

We in Malaysia can but sigh of course. Our banned books are very banned and theoretically we could be fined or imprisoned for possessing and distributing them. More books never reach out bookstore shelf because someone thinks they are unsuitable for us. Books from overseas sometimes don't reach us (just ask Leon about trying to get his copies of Granta magazine or Dina trying to get medical books on ovarian cysts!). Ignorant people who would never read Rushdie in a hundred years (probably can't read any novels in English anyway) call for all his books to be banned and scream "Don't step on my sensitivities," in lieu of logical discussion. (Hey, I got sensitivities too as a reader!)

Good for the ALA opposing and highlighting every instance where a book is challenged : I doubt if we could even keep up if we were to do this here! And half the time we don't even know how hard it is to obtain a title until we try.

My friends, we are the ones more in need of a Banned Books Week than the Americans, and I really wish this event were an international one.

Erna recently resurrected the Manuscripts Don't Burn blog from its long slumber and I hope this time it is maintained, as it could be a very useful focal point for discussion about the issue. (I found myself a lone voice on the blog with no-one else contributing and have dropped out of it now for good ... but will fight my fight from here, of course.)

Sisters in Islam (SIS) have, of course, their own very important battle to fight. Leave has been granted for Judicial Review and the first hearing will be on 28 Oct.

Thank you,

Postscript :

Just opened my e-mail midway through writing this post and found this message from Daphne Lee - talk about timely!! :
Twenty-sixth September saw the start of Banned Books Week in the States.

Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Here in Malaysia, more than 1500 books have been banned between 1971 and 2009. In terms of children's literature, these include books in the Spongebob Squarepants series, Dora’s Fiesta Adventure ActivePoint Book, Poems & Prayers for Children and Read-Aloud Children’s Classics.**

The Dram Projects believes in the freedom to read. We also believe in the right to make informed choices when selecting reading material.

TDP will be participating in the Right to Read Festival, presented by Sisters in Islam and The Centre for Independent Journalism.

Artist/photographer Wei Meng Foo and Daphne Lee (of TDP) will conduct Free2READ, a workshop that introduces children (9-12) to their rights as readers; celebrates the joy and thrill of discovering the different worlds and experiences that lie between the covers of books; and examines the problems and challenges children might encounter in their reading journeys.

The workshop participants will be encouraged to discuss and debate the concept of book-banning; invited to question book-banning and challenging policies; and explore their own feelings and thoughts regarding the practice of restricting children's reading material.

This will be followed by a bookcover art session with artist/photographer Wei Meng Foo. During this session participants will be invited to exercise their imaginations and creatiivity to produce book covers that celebrate their rights as readers.

Date: 10th October, 2009

Time: 10am-1pm

Venue: The Annexe, Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

Admission: Free

Registration: Call Nazreen at 03-7785 6121

The Dram Projects

016-328 1513
*Found via jelundberg on Twitter.

** Ooops- postscript to a postscript - these children's titles were never "banned" (e.g gazetted) but were, for whatever reasons, seized by JPJ officers. If Munsy is accusing ALA of being sloppy with language, we should take care ourselves.


Voracia: Goddess of Words said...

I just found your blog and think it's very informative! I've added it to my list of blogs to read regularly.

mee said...

Just posted my thoughts on BBW. Malaysia and Indonesia (or Islamic countries in general) generally have the same problems regarding books banning. After the fall of Soeharto though, Indonesia got a lot better. The last time I visited there were heaps of books translated that weren't available before.