10:00 AM, Oct 3, 2015 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual self-advertisement, has now ended for this year. Bookstores will disassemble their earnest displays of “banned books,”and the semblance of normality will return to public libraries. And we will be left with the sobering thought that, in 21st-century America, there remain people who would ban the works of Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger or Judy Blume, to give some favorite examples.
Except that this year, I’m happy to report, a tiny crack appeared in the ALA’s great Banned Books Week edifice. Slate, a publication not known for its skepticism toward liberal pieties, ran an essay with the intoxicating title “Banned Books Week Is a Crock.” I was, and remain, astonished, and yet encouraged, that it should have been published—and not banned!—by the right-thinking editors at Slate.
For the essay makes the obvious point that, in this day and age, neither The Catcher in the Rye nor To Kill a Mockingbird nor any of the innumerable Young Adult classics of Judy Blume have been actually “banned” anywhere in America. One might argue, in fact, that the fiction of Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger—or the poetry of Allen Ginsburg, the novels of Toni Morrison, and so on— are altogether ubiquitous, perhaps inescapable. What the American Library Association regards as “banning,” or censorship, usually involves the hapless effort of some lone heartland citizen who objects to the inclusion of certain titles in school reading lists, and complains to his/her local school board. The petitioners are invariably religious, usually evangelical Christians, and the objections are generally about profanity or sexual language.
What the Slate essay makes clear is that not only are these efforts comparatively isolated, and infrequent, but that they are almost inevitably unsuccessful. School boards, even school boards in flyover America, tend not to acquiesce to citizen complaints about classroom reading material; and even if they do, it involves allowing the petitioners’ children—and only the petitioners’ children—to opt out of reading the objectionable titles. If this constitutes book-banning, it is the sort of “ban” that generates the kind of favorable publicity that raises sales for “banned” authors – and of course, generates the admiration of the ALA.
It is all, as the Slate headline suggests, a crock.
Yet what intrigues me about Banned Books Week publicity, and the likely political agenda over at ALA headquarters, is not what it features but what it excludes. For there is, in fact, an ongoing effort to ban books in America in 2015—that is, to exclude them from classroom reading lists, if not prevent their publication and sale – but it is taking place not on school boards in our nation’s rural communities but on college campuses in some of the most progressive and sophisticated communities in the United States. At Columbia University in Manhattan, for example, Ovid’s Metamorphoses has been excluded from the syllabus because of objections about sexual violence and replaced with—irony alert!—Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Rutgers is considering the attachment of required “trigger warnings” for The Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn, and based on individual complaints, innumerable other colleges and universities are pondering the future of such works as Mrs. Dalloway or The Merchant of Venice on student reading lists.
This is exactly the same process that agitates the ALA and its friends during Banned Books Week—disaffected citizens seeking the suppression of classic works because of their personal objections to them—and yet, mysteriously, the American Library Association makes no mention of this growing menace to free speech and the freedom to read, and to great literature, not to mention literacy.
Now, why is that?
5:01 PM, Aug 4, 2015 • By ERIN MUNDAHL
Americans have long been skeptical of the liberal arts. Frequently this takes the form of a discussion of whether a degree in history or literature is “worth it” in a purely economic sense. Annual reports highlight the top-earning college majors, subtly encouraging students to forgo a class in literature or history in favor of something useful, like nursing or engineering.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of our innate American pragmatism.
3:41 PM, Jul 23, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
The latest New York Times bestseller list has Ted Cruz's A Time for Truth at number 8. Just above him is former President Jimmy Carter's A Full Life, coming in at 7.
The strange thing, however, is that Cruz sold almost 60 percent more copies of his book last week than Carter.
According to Bookscan, which tracks the number of books sold, Cruz sold 8,814 last week. Carter sold only 5,147.
The New York Times list does not indicate either author's books were purchased in bulk orders.
1:38 PM, Jul 8, 2015 • By DAVID BAHR
Fareed Zakaria, CNN’s foreign policy touchstone, has officially entered what is passing for the “culture wars” in American education with his new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria argues that the mode of education known as the liberal arts is in peril, and purports to offer a robust defense.
1:03 PM, Jan 22, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a press conference with reporters today on Capitol Hill, Harry Reid described what he's been up to since injuring his face and ribs in an exercising accident:
3:49 PM, Jan 12, 2015 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
It's been almost five years since Obamacare was passed, and the law remains as unpopular as ever—public support hit a record low of 37 percent in November. Opposing Obamacare is a no-brainer for Republicans politically, though the question of what to do about the law remains something that divides the right. And finding the right legislative remedy has become an especially acute challenge now that Republicans control the House and Senate.
The Washington Examiner's Phil Klein has justly earned a reputation as one of the best reporters covering Obamacare, and the timing of his new book, Overcoming Obamacare: Three Approaches to Reversing the Government Takeover of Health Care, could not be better. Here Klein takes a look at three major schools of thought on the right about how to fixing the law, or what he calls the reform school, the replace school, and the restart school. If you want to know what the future holds in store for Obamacare, Klein's book is essential reading—and the Kindle version is just $2.99.
The B&A Podcast is hosted by Philip Terzian.10:05 AM, Oct 12, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD Books & Arts Podcast with Philip Terzian, on the October 13th Issue's Books and Arts section.
The Loeb Classical Library goes digitalOct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By SUSAN KRISTOL
“Chemistry and Physics Get Million from Loeb,” blared the Harvard Crimson headline. “Funds will modernize laboratory facilities and establish chemistry chairs.” The donor: scientist Morris Loeb ’83. A million dollars is indeed generous. But on the Harvard scale, did it really warrant a Crimson headline?
Night visions of Americans, and what to make of themJul 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 43 • By JUDY BACHRACH
It’s hard to know what to make of Lincoln Dreamt He Died. On reading the title, my first irreverent thought was: Hey, safe bet. My second: Contrary to popular myth-ology, many of us dream of our own deaths—and guess what? We’re prophetic! Then I studied the subtitle and worried some more. Was this going to be as bad as the publisher heralded?
The literary (?) career of Jules VerneJul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By ALGIS VALIUNAS
Certain amusements appropriate to childhood or adolescence have established a beachhead in adulthood, or its 21st-century American simulacrum. Grown men and women indulge, with or without shame, in video games, fantasy football leagues, sitcoms, online porn, comic books, and movies based on comic books—or that involve Las Vegas, 33 shots of tequila, and waking up athwart two female Sumo wrestlers and a chimpanzee.
The changing instinct for self-depictionJun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By HENRIK BERING
In the history of art, self-portraiture constitutes a world of its own, presenting us with moods ranging from the lighthearted to the sordid. There is sheer delight in Rubens’s painting of himself and his first wife Isabella Brant in a bower of honeysuckle bliss; acute menace when Caravaggio decks himself out as Bacchus, looking like some exceedingly poisonous rent boy, and veering into grisliness when he lets the severed head of Goliath carry his own likeness.
Will you, won’t you, benefit from graduate education?Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By ABIGAIL LAVIN
When I sat for my SAT exams as a high school senior, I thought to myself, “This is the last standardized test you will ever have to take!” I had never considered myself an intellectual and was vaguely distrustful of anyone who chose the cocoon of the academy over the rough-and-tumble of the “real world.” Ten years later, I was sitting in a café in downtown Shanghai, gritting my teeth over the Princeton Review’s GRE prep manual.
The Great War, of modern memory, at 100Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By J. HARVIE WILKINSON III
Back then, it was not known as World War I, for the obvious reason that the Second World War still lay in the future. It was simply the Great War, for the world had never seen anything like it.