MARIETTA - Besides being set in dystopian futures in which free thought and expression are discouraged, "Fahrenheit 451," "1984" and "The Handmaid's Tale" all have something else in common.
"Ironically, they've all been banned," said Amanda Anderson, English instructor at Washington State Community College.
Excerpts from those books and about a dozen others that have been challenged or outright banned from school curricula and libraries were read aloud Wednesday in the cafeteria at Washington State as part of the school's second annual banned book reading in honor of Banned Book Week, an annual event held to promote the free exchange of ideas.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Washington State Community College student Tiffany Perry, left, interprets in American Sign Language as student Joe Lamp reads the book “And Tango Makes Three” during the college’s second annual banned book reading Wednesday.
Students in Anderson's children's literature class, as well as college staff members, chose the selections to present.
"I came last year ... and I was so impressed I jumped at the chance to read from one of my favorite books," said Laura Garcia, associate professor of speech communications.
Garcia shared a selection from the opening chapter of "A Wrinkle in Time," a book she noted has been challenged for being "too Christian and not Christian enough."
10 Most Challenged Titles of 2011
1. "ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r" (series) by Lauren Myracle
2. "The Color of Earth" (series) by Kim Dong Hwa
3. "The Hunger Games" trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
4. "My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy" by Dori Hillestad Butler
5. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie
6. "Alice" (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
7. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley
8. "What My Mother Doesn't Know" by Sonya Sones
9. "Gossip Girl" (series) by Cecily Von Ziegesar
10. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
As he did last year, Washington State President Bradley Ebersole opened the readings with an excerpt from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The book is most often banned over the racial language it includes, and Ebersole warned listeners in advance he would be reading the most offensive term as it was originally written.
That didn't bother Washington State student Charlie Merrill.
"It's part of American history, you know," said Merrill, 19, of Marietta.
Merrill didn't come specifically for the reading; he was just eating in the cafeteria when it started. But he said he liked what the event represented.
"I think it's great what they're doing. ... It's free speech. Everybody should have the right to write what they want. And we have the right to interpret it," he said.
Anderson said children's literature is the most censored genre, often because people are concerned about protecting children's innocence or shielding them from difficult concepts. But she said those worries are often blown out of proportion.
"Children are amazing readers in the fact that they will take out of a story what they need and leave what they don't," she said.
Among the children's books read Wednesday were Maurice Sendak's classic "Where the Wild Things Are" and "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. The latter, based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who built a nest and hatched a chick together in the Central Park Zoo, has been a perennial entry on the American Library Association's top 10 list of banned books because of religious objections and claims that it promotes homosexuality and is unsuitable for its age group.
"It doesn't surprise me that people have a problem with homosexuality," said student Joe Lamp, of Lowell, who read the book while Tiffany Perry interpreted it in American Sign Language.
The book is recommended for preschoolers to third-graders. Lamp said the decision on whether it's appropriate to read should be up to families.
"I think it just depends on the parents and their views," he said.