Sunday, September 22, 2013

What do you know about Banned Books?

This week (September 22-28) has been designated by the American Library Association as Banned Books Week. Here is a quote from the ALA's website:
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book communitylibrarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all typesin shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
You may be wondering, What books are so terrible that they make it onto a list of books that should be banned? Here are a few examples of books for children and teens:
Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey
In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
Harry Potter (all volumes), by J. K. Rowling
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
And some classics, included in the the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century:
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
1984, by George Orwell
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
Not to forget popular (and in some cases award-winning) fiction:
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
The ALA website goes on to say,

Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. But as Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson said most eloquently:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
If we are to continue to protect our First Amendment, we would do well to keep in mind these words of Noam Chomsky:
If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
Or these words of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas ("The One Un-American Act." Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20):
Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

So if you find it incredible that the books on this list have been targeted for removal from a library somewhere, here are a few things you can do:
  • Support your local libraries when they provide equal access to all types of writing. (Think about what is--and should be--included in a public library's collection, from Rush Limbaugh to Bill Maher, from Joel Osteen to Charles Bukowski, from classics  and literary fiction to sci fi and chick lit. Just because you don't want to read it, does that mean no one should?)
  • Encourage people who think books should be banned to instead just refuse to read the books. Books are most frequently challenged by parents wanting to protect their children; but the best way for them to do that is simply to exercise discretion over what their own children read, rather than attempting to dictate to others what is suitable.
  • Don't take this valuable democratic freedom for granted: Proudly say "I read banned books!" and check one out from our Banned Books Week displays!

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