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Bar the bookbusters

If you're spooked by a story or a thought or a word, who're you going to call? Bookbusters! In the past several years, attempts to get books pulled from library shelves have tripled, the American Library Association reported [recently].

This year, the ALA expects to hear about 1,000 efforts to remove books from classrooms or libraries. Volumes that have come under fire recently include literary classics, like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and 1984. Some communities have a review process that gives a book a chance to stay on the shelves once it has been challenged. Others simply yank the book.

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In Racine, Wis., it was Slaughterhouse Five -- Kurt Vonnegut's novel of the firebombing of Dresden. In Rankin County, Miss., it was Go Ask Alice, which describes a teen-ager's death from drug abuse. In Anniston, Ala., it was -- yes -- Doris Day's autobiography.

Conservatives complain they are the victims of censorship, too.

Lately, books thought to be racist have been targets. In Waukegan, Ill., an alderman tried to rid classrooms of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huckleberry Finn -- he didn't like the way they portrayed blacks. In Fairfax, Va., a teacher succeeded in getting Huck Finn temporarily banned from -- ironically enough -- Mark Twain Intermediate School.

The educator published his own version that substituted ``slave'' or ``black man'' for the word ``nigger.'' Never mind that part of the book's purpose was to underscore the evils of the racism of that day.

In the 19th century, it was bad grammar and blasphemy that helped get books banned. Today, it is racism, ageism, and sexism. Books are targeted because they promote creationism, or because they don't promote creationism.

Of course, ideas need a context. A kid who knows nothing of the racism that thrived when Huckleberry Finn was written won't understand the author was attacking racism.

But censorship is dangerous. There's no limit to beefs about books. If Mark Twain and Doris Day offend, why stop there? There's the Constitution: Censorship is a hallmark of totalitarian regimes.

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When the world has been made safe from ideas, the Bookbusters will have won. The library shelves will be empty -- and ignorance will have triumphed.

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