Alameda library, bookstore mark Banned Books Week

Alameda library, bookstore mark Banned Books Week

Michele Ellson
Alameda Free Library

Marie Gilmore was shocked when she saw Madeline L’Engle’s award-winning 1962 science fiction novel “A Wrinkle in Time” on a list of banned and challenged books.

“I read it when I was a child and my daughter read it also,” Alameda’s mayor said. “We just happened to be discussing the book a few weeks ago, so when I saw it on the list, I decided to read it.”

Gilmore will be at the main library offer a reading from the book at 1 p.m. Monday as part of the Alameda Free Library’s effort to mark Banned Books Week, which starts Sunday. The library is seeking additional volunteers to conduct readings of banned and challenged books at the main library and both branches this week.

“Banned Books Week celebrates our freedom to read and our access to information, even if that information is unpopular or ideas are outside of the box,” she said. “By just looking at the books on the list, Banned Books Week reminds us why censorship is a bad thing.”

This week’s Community Banned Books Reading Marathon is the first to be hosted by the library. Cosette Ratliff, the Alameda Free Library’s new supervising librarian and organizer of the event, said she thinks supporting patrons’ right to read what they want to is a key service the library provides.

“I believe that being able to read whatever you want to read is central to who we are, and to knowing what you believe,” Ratliff said. “While not every books is for every reader, there are so many ideas out there that if they were banned or taken away from us, we wouldn’t know about them to begin with.”

Ratliff said she has an inch-thick list of banned and challenged books; for this week’s reading marathon, librarians “are just pulling everything we can find off of our shelves.”

Banned and challenged books to be offered for readings include books that are now considered classics, including John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. The list will also include youth bestsellers like the Harry Potter series and “TTFN,” part of a series of books that has topped last year’s list of challenged tomes.

Banned Books Week got its start in 1982 in response to a surge in challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, a website promoting the event says; the list of books that have been challenged since then has topped 11,000, including 326 reported to the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011. The event’s goals are to draw attention to efforts to restrict access to books and to support others aimed at expressing unorthodox and popular ideas.
The books featured during the week-long event “have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools,” according to the American Library Association’s website. Challenges to the books have included concerns that they are sexually explicit, contain offensive language and depict racism or violence.

The list of books that have been challenged in the years since the event was founded range from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” to the “Captain Underpants” series, which the library association said was removed from a Connecticut school in 2000 due to concerns the books caused unruly behavior in children.

“While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available,” the library association’s website says. “This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.”

Another concern listed for many of the books on last year’s list is that they were unsuited to certain age groups. Ratliff said that for the Alameda Free Library’s events, each patron may decide what they wish to read, listen to or view, and parents should decide which books their children may read.

“We believe parents have the right to decide what kids read,” Ratliff said.

In addition to the library’s reading marathon, bookseller Books Inc. will set up a display advertising the event in its Alameda store, something it does every year. The display will include banned and challenged books plus information about where and when the books were banned.

“We take it very, very seriously,” Elizabeth Jenkins, who works at Books Inc.’s Alameda store, said. “And every year when we get the list, we go, ‘This? This was banned? By whom?’”

The Alameda Free Library’s Community Banned Books Reading Marathon will take place during all of the main library’s open hours; additional readings will take place at the West End branch from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and the Bay Farm branch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday. Anyone interested in volunteering to read may call the main library at 747-7714 or 747-7716 or e-mail the library at Anyone interested in reading at the branch libraries can call the West End branch at 747-7767 or the Bay Farm Branch at 747-7787.

The main library is open from noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The main library is located at 1550 Oak Street; the Bay Farm Branch is at 3221 Mecartney Road; and the West End Branch is at 788 Santa Clara Avenue. Books Inc. is at 1344 Park Street.

List: Ten most challenged titles of 2011

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
8. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language; racism

Source: Banned Books Week website