Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Week: Considering and Reconsidering Invisible Man

September 22-28 is Banned Books Week, a time to reflect on and celebrate the freedom to read and examine attempts to limit that freedom. It was fitting that on Wednesday, September 25, the Randolph County (North Carolina) Board of Education rescinded the ban on Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man that they had established on September 16.

The ban was in response to a parental complaint about the book. The Times-News reported that school board member Gary Mason argued that the book had no literary value in voting in favor of the ban. He is only board member who voted to uphold the ban upon reconsideration.

How do you evaluate literary value? Mason made his judgment based on his reading the book, and the news coverage doesn't state if he consulted any external sources.

Here are some of our resources if you want to determine a book's literary value, in this case Invisible Man. Start with the book itself (PS3555.L625 I5 1994). Even the catalog record tells us something; it is part of the series "The Modern library of the world's best books."

We also have two ebooks that discusses it, History and Memory in the Two Souths: Recent Southern and Spanish American Fiction by Deborah N. Cohn (electronic resource) and Prophets of Recognition: Ideology and the Individual in Novels by Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, and Eudora Welty by Julia Eichelberger (electronic resource) and a book about author Ralph Ellison, Shadowing Ralph Ellison by John S. Wright (PS3555.L625 Z96 2006).

But an easy way to research literature is using Literature Resource Center, available through our list of databases. Searching it by the name of work and author (to distinguish it from the similarly titled novel by H.G. Wells) brings up a raft of criticism of the work as well as biographies of the author, reviews, and other related resources.

Clearly, many people other than Gary Mason have found literary value in the book.

Gary Mason made a decision that affects others' right to read, and he made it out of ignorance. Take advantage of library resources to make informed decisions, and appreciate that you have the right to do so.

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