Schenectady County

High praise for banned books

It was a distinguished list of books read at Schenectady County Library Sunday afternoon.

It was a distinguished list of books read at Schenectady County Library Sunday afternoon.

“The Awakening,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” all titles many have read and most have at least heard of — all books that were banned at some point since publication.

It was the second banned book reading at the Schenectady Library and marked the 30th anniversary of Banned Book Week.

Karen Bradley, who planned the event, called it a “celebration of the right to read.”

Gazette columnist Carl Strock kicked it off with a section of his favorite banned book, J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“It appealed to me as an alienated youth,” he said.

Certain snappy phrases brought the small crowd to open laughter.

“I was surrounded by jerks,” Strock read in Holden Caulfield’s jaded adolescent voice, and, “Real ugly girls have it tough.”

The book was challenged many times in its 60 years in print based on some colorful language.

“You can see if you’re an up-tight parent you might not want your 14-year-old reading about Holden,” Strock said. “He’s not much of a role model.”

That being said, it didn’t seem all that explicit. “Phony” was nearly the worst of the colorful language that ostensibly drew the complaints.

In fact, for a banned book event, the presentation was low-key. The curved, wood-lined library room held about 35, most involved in education or literary endeavours.

Proctors marketing director Richard Lovrich’s straw fedora carried a “Free to Read” bookmark as he strode back and forth reading sections of “A Clockwork Orange” through thick tortoise shell glasses.

Retired Niskayuna English teacher Linda Witkowski read from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Any English major would have felt right at home.

As Strock pointed out, censorship was relatively common before a watershed case between the U.S. government and James Joyce over the perceived obscenity of his book “Ulysses.”

“I remember being in college in the ’60s when it was whispered through the dorms that one of our classmates had been to Europe and acquired a copy of Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Capricorn’,” Strock said, “and that was only 50 years ago.”

Cheryl Cufari had a similar story regarding Miller’s book. In 1964 her father told her there was a book on the mantle and she couldn’t read it.

Of course she read it then, and she read it again at Sunday’s event — illustrating the futile nature of trying to keep interesting books out of young hands.

“If you look at a lot of these banned books,” said Kaela Wallman, “they’re often the ones that get awards.”

Wallman read from Carolyn Mackler’s young adult creation “The Earth, My Big Butt and Other Big Round Things,” which won the Michael L. Printz Award back in 2004.

She said the book was banned from many middle school libraries for its suggestive nature, but as the local youth services librarian, Wallman recommends it to many young readers.

“It’s important for kids to read good books,” she said.

For more information on banned book week visit

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