Thursday, September 28, 2017

Banned Books Week

This display was in the lobby of the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library in Chicago.
It's Banned Books Week this week, which is a celebration of intellectual freedom and the freedom of the press.

Banned Book Week is sponsored by the ALA (American Library Association) and libraries all around the country are celebrating books that have either been "Challenged" or outright banned.  Challenged books are books that have been attempted to be removed or restricted by a group.

A hit list of banned and challenged
children's books. Available via Amazon.
The ALA has been standing up for Banned and Challenged Books for over 30 years!

The freedom to choose what we read (and what we write) is firmly rooted in the First Amendment. Would-be censors can come from all quarters and all political persuasions and threaten our right to choose knowledge and entertainment for ourselves.

Here's last year's list of challenged books. It's worth noting that each year hundreds of books are challenged, but only a small fraction of those books are ever in danger of being removed or restricted.  That's because librarians (and teachers, and parents, and students, and regular people) all stand up and fight for the ability of ideas and ideals to be shared.

One of the things that I think is really interesting is that sometimes these books aren't being challenged because of content, but because of context .  A great example is Bill Cosby, whose children's books and television shows were revered.  Serious allegations of sexual misconduct are now endangering his books, many of which had been written years before these allegations.  The books haven't changed, but our reaction to them has. (Or at least some people's reactions.  I think that what Bill Cosby did to those women was heinous, but his childhood was still pretty funny and great and has meaning to me, and has such his books still have merit.)

Some of the challenges have some merit, especially within a school or classroom setting.  As the father of a nine-year-old, I definitely think there are books that I don't want my son to be reading.  Mostly it's not for the ideas in them, but for the prurient content, the language, or the violence. None of them should be off-limits forever.  (A great question though, is knowing when he is ready to start reading some of the more controversial books. My personal feeling is that every kid is different, and managing their information/reading diet is something that parents have to tailor to their children.  Raising your kids is not the prerogative of the government but of you.  )

I don't remember which
book I was reading.
It kind of looked like this.
Available via Amazon.

When I was in fourth grade, I started reading a lot of books about the Mafia and about Voodoo.  I was interested, I bought the books at the dime store, and I was a voracious reader. My teachers were quite concerned, apparently that I was planning on becoming a magical criminal.

Long story short, I was banned from reading those books.  At the time, I was furious, but over time, I found other books to read, and I have not lost my taste for true crime. Or books about forbidden subjects.

At the Sulzer Library, in honor of Banned Book Week, the teen program is putting together a zine. (For those of you not steeped in 1990's culture, a zine is a handmade magazine)    They were asking people to respond to the following prompts.  And then they are going to publish the zine.  Find out more about the Sulzer Teen Zine Club.

These are great questions, and worth answering.

I have read many banned or challenged books, including Go Ask Alice, all of the Harry Potter books, Huckleberry Finn, Beloved, The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime, The Joy of Sex, and many many others.  I would definitely recommend that people read books that interest them, regardless of whether other people think it's right.

Knowledge, Power, History, and Entertainment.  For me, books open up new worlds, worlds that I haven't been a part of, could never be a part of, and they give me insight into them.  I think it was Franz Kafka who said "A book should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us."

Here's a great article from the National Post about just that (along with the Kafka quote)

I would guess and say fear of the unknown is the primary reason.  As I've researched banned books for this article, many times, the people who are challenging the books are challenging them but they haven't read them.  They've read about them, and have concluded they are immoral, and therefore challenge them.  As stated above, I'm not against limiting books (or television, or videogames) for kids based on content, but I think it is the parent's job to do that, not the governments (or the libraries)

So what about you?  How would you answer these questions?  And how are you celebrating Banned Books Week?

Find out more about Banned Book week here:

1 comment:

Paula Kiger said...

Great great great questions, Adam! We had a HUGE (to me at least) censorship issues about Curious Incident here in Tallahassee a couple of year ago at my son's school. It was ... intense ... and there is very little I would change about my very public reaction although I have always been sad about the rift that was created between the principal and me, and never overcome.