Banning Reality

The ALA lists of frequently challenged books fascinate me—as do the reasons people cite in their objections. Take the Top 10 Challenged Books for 2010:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; 
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; 
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley; 
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins; 
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins;  
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend; 
  7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones; 
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich; 
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie; 
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Most of these have been challenged for violence, language, drug references, or sexuality. [ALA has graphs of challenges by year, reason, initiator, etc. for the last twenty years.]

However, the one that really surprised me was #8: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. This book is nonfiction—and about real life experiences of the working poor.  The author spends a year doing a series of minimum-to-low wage jobs. She starts from scratch with each experience, not using any of her own comfortably middle-class resources. Morgan Spurlock did the same thing on his show 30 Days—for 30 days. Ehrenreich did it for a year, and she worked in different areas of the country and at different types of jobs. She waited tables, cleaned hotel rooms, emptied bedpans at a nursing home, and worked at Walmart.   Nickel and Dimed is the story of her experience—and those of the people she meets along the way.

Many schools use this book in personal finance / getting ready for the real world kind of courses. So why has this been challenged? How could one object to the lives of waitresses and Walmart cashiers? Well, one of the challenges cited "book's profanity, offensive references to Christianity, and biased portrayal of capitalism."  Another complained that the book promoted socialism.  [Marshall University libraries did a nice breakdown of challenges for each book.]

I can understand objecting to profanity. (This book was intended for an adult audience, after all.) I don’t remember if/how she criticized Christianity in the book, so I can’t comment on that.  But a biased portrayal of capitalism? Promoting socialism?

What Nickel and Dimed promotes is empathy. The author finds out, for instance, that it’s nearly impossible on a diner waitress’ salary to save up enough for first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit (not to mention utilities). This is why most of her co-workers lived in a motel, something which she didn’t think made economic sense until she was in that situation.  Or, as the author writes on her blog:

A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she’d always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn’t always an option.

This is one of those books (imho) that everyone should read, regardless of political viewpoint or economic status. Or age.

What do you guys think? Are political and/or economic viewpoints valid reasons for challenging books? [Not that I think any reasons are truly valid. Maybe reasonable is the right word. Maybe.]


JoLynne Lyon said...

Banning a book because it's too socialist is sooo 1950. Like most of the books on that top ten list, I think Nickle and Dimed would be a great springboard for discussion, both on not judging others and on getting an education.

cookie said...

No! Especially when most people don't understand how hard it is for the poor to save money, eat healthily, raise kids, go to college--anything.

People should get medals for rising above poverty.

Ben Spendlove said...

AMEN! And no, banning reality, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, is patently un-American. Also, it's absurd.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

We read Nickel & Dimed in Sociology... surprised to hear it is banned! I don't remember anything about Christianity in it, but it's been a few years since college.

Catherine Stine said...

Who knows why Nickel & Dimed was banned. It sounds like such a great "learning the real world" book. I've read books 3 through 8 on that list and they are all quite important. Banning books makes no sense in America.