Imaging walking into your school’s library looking for a book to challenge your ideas, change your perspectives, and perhaps make you consider things you had never even thought of before. Your eyes scan the shelves, searching for the titles of some modern classics, but they are conspicuously absent. Nowhere on the shelves can you find The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Slaughterhouse-Five. You might not even be able to find popular contemporary series like Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games.
Chances are you haven’t been in this situation because the U.S. protects your right to free speech. You can say what you want, think what you want, read what you want. But despite our First Amendment right, some schools and libraries (but mostly parents) feel certain books are inappropriate for their students, children, or members and refuse to carry them. Reasons for censorship include offensive language, racism or discussion of racial issues, positive depictions of non-traditional lifestyles (as in Daddy’s Roomate), sexual content, violence, and the occult.
To raise awareness of the issue of censorship and celebrate our freedom to read, Banned Book Week was launched in 1982. Each year during the last week of September, libraries and bookstores across the country participate by mounting displays of banned books and holding events such as read-outs. Since BBW’s inauguration 31 years ago, over 11,300 books have been challenged.
We all probably complained in high school about some of the books we had to read for English class – I’m certainly guilty of really disliking Animal Farm at age 15 – but really, how incredibly lucky were we to be able to read some of those books?! I believe banned books are probably the most important to read. If a book’s message makes someone so uncomfortable they have to ban it to keep their children from picking up its ideas, it probably has some interesting and valuable truth to it. The books pictured above were pulled were pulled from my shelf; all of them are banned/challenged, and I feel my life is richer for reading each of them (well, except for Catcher In The Rye… it might need another read).
This year, I am celebrating Banned Books Week by reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. I’ve never read her because I’ve always felt strangely intimidated by her books, so this is the perfect time to challenge myself! Just this year, a Fairfax VA mother lobbied to have Beloved banned from her son’s school. The Washington Post reports that she thought the depictions of bestiality, gang rape, and infanticide were too intense for teenagers to handle. Although I felt super confused and disoriented at the beginning of the book, I’m getting into the groove now. I can’t wait to see what Beloved has in store for me! (The book banner’s son had nightmares after reading this book, so I’m looking forward to some really powerful scenes.)
So go out this week and pick up a banned or challenged book. Read something ‘subversive,’ that ‘presents dangerous ideas,’ or that ‘goes against the Bible.’ It might help you discover new ways of thinking or gain some sort of enlightenment. It might even change you life. So go to your local library and check out a banned book. Celebrate your right to read.