*Happy* Banned Books Week! I put asterisks around Happy because the phrasing seems a little adverse, although it is appropriate because of its purpose. The observance of Banned Books Week was created in 1982 as a response to the overwhelming surge of literary censorship. Since then, over 11,000 books have been challenged because of “unsuitable” or “offensive” content. The American Library Association (ALA) receives reports of attempts to censor or ban books and uses the information to inform readers and the public of such controversies and to further promote informational access.
“Okay,” you may be saying, “but censorship violates my right, authors’ rights of freedom of speech. You know, a basic amendment right. That can’t be happening today.” Sentences one and two of that statement is correct! However, some individuals, groups, or organizations are still disagreeing with views and/or ideas presented within the pages of books (like cultural allusions, offensive language, and more), and are trying to eliminate access – through censorship or trying to have books removed from a library or bookstore – because those views and ideas go against their own beliefs. Yes, this still happens. It’s not something of the past, and it surely isn’t going away in the future. However, the ALA strenuously works to protect the rights of librarians, teachers, students, and others to make sure freedom of speech and information access is upheld. Who exactly is challenging those rights of ours? You may be surprised to find out that since 1990, more parents have overwhelmingly challenged literary content than any other group.
So, there’s a little background into censorship and the reasons behind the creation and importance of Banned Books Week. It’s about awareness, promotion, and of course, reading. Remember, just because certain individuals or groups believe certain information shouldn’t be shared or published, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have access to that very information.
Have you ever read a book that has been constantly challenged or maybe even censored? An example that sticks out in my mind is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – one of the most challenged books in history, and, if you’ve read it or know anything about it, you can probably guess why. It frequently uses the “n” word and other expletives, and has been accused of being racially insensitive, especially in the current century. It’s as if those challengers are blind to history, have never explored satirical rhetoric or devices, or are just unaware of when the book was first published: 1884 (1885 in the U.S.). Whether it’s all of these, one of these, or for another reason, they don’t want anyone to have access to the information between the covers.
Other titles that are frequently challenged or have been banned include (but are certainly not limited to):
The Great Gatsby – John F. Fitzgerald
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
And, one of the most ironic, Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
I wholeheartedly support Banned Books Week, because I support literature, libraries, writers, imagination, ideas, words; and as an addendum to those last two, even if I don’t agree with certain ideas and words, I won’t prevent your access to them. I know this post is quite link heavy, but I promise there is valuable information behind the links. So get informed, share your experience(s) with a banned or challenged book (and any resources you have found!), and get reading!
Be sure to check out bannedbooksweek.org and ala.org/bbooks for more information on banned books and your right to access information and read (and if you’re looking for some more fun with Banned Books Week, check out this crossword puzzle from Penguin Random House).