By Erin Morris
For those of us who did not know, the past week was a celebration of our First Amendment rights. Banned Books Week may be a small event, but it makes a loud statement.
The event has taken place during the last week of September every year since 1982. It was originally a response to the number of books being challenged by schools, stores, and libraries. Sexually explicit material, religious tones, and crude language are the top reasons a book is usually challenged. The main point of Banned Books Week was that despite the questionable content of specific books, those books must remain available to the public. It retains its original purpose to this day.
You’re thinking, “Who cares?” When I sat down to write this article, I was thinking the same thing. But once you think about it a little, your view may begin to change, as mine did.
There are, no doubt, things that I would never want to see my little brother or sister reading. There are books that I begin and put back on the shelf because I’m getting nauseous. Yeah, it would be a heck of a lot easier if that junk wasn’t even available for me to stick my nose into. Perhaps you feel the same. Perhaps you don’t. That is where we find our problem and the importance of Banned Book Week.
Simply put, my standards and your standards probably don’t match up. For instance, my parents were pretty strict with me when I was growing up. One rule I remember distinctly is that I couldn’t read anything that dealt with magic. I couldn’t watch the movies either. There was no Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings for this kid. Now, those books would not have convinced me to jump on a broom and become a sorceress. To me, they would’ve simply been adventure stories, and though my parents had good intentions and I hold nothing against them, it would have been nice to choose for myself.
Clearly, my parents had different standards than I did. Now, my parents laying down some rules on their child is fair enough. It would be an entirely different situation if the government or an organization decided what was printed, published, and circulated. That, my friends, is the beginning of a dictatorship.
There would be an absolute outrage if someone decided what you could or could not publish as your status on Facebook. Think back to some of your posts. Specifically, any that had four letter words, sexual references, or religious content. Does anyone have the right to take down what you have posted? Your answer would of course sound something like “@&#% no!”
That same reason is why we should care about Banned Books Week. No one has the right to take down, delete, destroy, or replace anything that you or someone else has written. This country is based on freedom. Those who sailed the Mayflower knew what oppression of speech looked like, and it was ugly.
If you are assuming that none of the books you read would ever make the challenged list, I have news for you. Among the top 10 most challenged titles in 2010 are “Crank,” “Brave New World,” and everybody freak out at once, “Twilight.”
Granted, there are some challenged books that I would never read. I may not sport the “I Read Banned Books” pin, but I support the cause. To ban books is to put our nation under the same oppression they once endured in England. Banned Book Week helps to ensure that the voices of the American people are never again silenced.
Erin Morris is a sophomore majoring in professional communication. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Banned books week is an important initiative which questions and refutes some of those invisible ways in which one of our basic freedoms, the freedom to read, is limited. Books are banned and challenged every year in schools and libraries and most students don’t even realize it. The ways in which this is done can be subtle: books might not be added to a library catalogue, or they might not be included in a class reading list. Metaphorically speaking, witch hunting and book banning are similar. For a long time books, like witches in the Middle Ages, have been physically put at stakes and purged from society because of their (supposed) deviancy. Books of chivalry are burned in a cathartic fire in Don Quixote after corrupting the mind of this anachronistic knight errant and we also know that at 451 F paper bursts into flames; the literary scenes alluded to here – the former from a Spanish Renaissance novel and the latter from a modern American dystopian novel – remind me of the rights and privileges I should have as a reader in a modern democracy. Books are perceived as dangerous whenever they challenge or question our identity, especially when they reveal our biases and assumptions about race, religion, or sexual orientation. Accepting any form of book censorship is like denying our own individuality, refusing our uniqueness and diversity, while simultaneously accepting that there can only be a list of limited permissible forms of expression (and behavior).
Freedom of speech is one of the United State’s most fundamental rights, guaranteed in the first amendment of our Constitution. In many countries—even today—such freedom is non-existent. The possession and/or reading of prohibited materials can result in arrest, imprisonment, torture and death. Each year, to remind us of the freedoms we enjoy in relation to the written word, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Book week, encouraging people to read books that have been challenged or banned. In their official position statement, the ALA “promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”
In the US, books are banned or challenged in many contexts—by concerned parents, community members, school boards, religious groups, and other stakeholders. The urge to protect especially young readers from sensitive and unpleasant topics in literature is understandable, but misguided. I don’t think children are damaged or debilitated by anything they can read and understand. What they don’t understand, they usually ignore.
The ALA’s Banned Book Week, and the books it celebrates, remind us that we are a nation of free speakers and free readers. We are a nation that values words, ideas and education. We are also a nation that should not be afraid of stories that expose our warts and bruises. In a recent defense of realistic Young Adult literature, noted author Sherman Alexie reminds us that “there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.” That’s why I think that unrestricted access to all books—especially the banned ones—is important.
Banned Books Week is important because the banningof books says a lot more about the people banning them than it does about the books themselves, and the people banning them are ordinary, everyday Americans. In short, Banned Books Week makes us aware of the sort of prejudice and narrow-mindedness that is institutionalized at a national level when schools and libraries ban books. If we are aware of such prejudice, and how it can be made to seem “normal”, and even justifiable, we will be better able to make certain that the same prejudice is not passed onto our children, and I believe that a world without prejudice is a better place than the world we are a part of right now. It should be kept in mind that the sort of prejudice that leads to books being banned is the same sort of prejudice that led to the book burnings of the Nazi regime, and the burning of books by American authors Jack London, Helen Keller, and Ernest Hemingway. The distance between banning and burning is a very small one, and if we truly believe in the constitution of the United States, no book should ever be banned.