This week is Banned Books Week, which started on Sunday, September 25th, and ends this coming Saturday, October 1st. This year’s theme is Diversity, a theme I find very appropriate and relevant considering today’s world and the growing need for stories from so many different cultures, backgrounds and more. Here is a description of the event from the American Library Association‘s Website:
“Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” (Credit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek)
Over the past couple of years, I have begun to understand, and better appreciate, this important week because of the power books have to change lives, make people think or question ideas or reaffirm and challenge one’s points of view. Books matter because of the words a writer takes the time to put down on paper, computer or wherever else writers today preserve and keep their ideas and thoughts. I wrote two papers in college around the subject: one during my sophomore year, the other my senior year. For those papers, I asked ahead of time if I could bring in personal thoughts on the topic at hand, which I thought would strengthen my argument. As an avid reader and writer, this was an issue that I would have to take more seriously with my own writing in trying to understand why certain books are challenged and/or banned by teachers, parents and so on.
As many people know, books are challenged and/or banned for a variety of reasons: vulgar language/profanity, anti-religious viewpoints, religious viewpoints, witchcraft, sexuality, racism, sex, violence, the list goes on. Ebook bargain site BookBub, for example, posted an article on their blog just yesterday on 15 classic novels that were banned in the past and why:
Also, if you go to bannedbooksweek.org and ala.org/bbooks/ (American Library Association), you can also find numerous lists of challenged/banned books and the reasons why. The American Library Association for example has top ten lists for the most frequently banned books of the 21st century, children’s books, young adult books and even a list dedicated to books challenged because of “diverse content.” They have a page called “Defining Diversity” explaining the terminology further. The website bannedbooksweek.org also contains various updates/articles on the issue of diversity in literature to coincide with this year’s theme. I listed a few posts below:
So here’s where I stand: it’s a complicated issue. There are books I choose not to read because of particular subjects or content, which is totally OK. Everyone should have the right to choose, like or dislike whatever book is out there. However, the line gets drawn when a book is challenged and sometimes later removed from shelves because of complaints. That’s where the controversy of censorship enters the conversation.Lately, and this is what I talked about in my paper my senior year of college, trigger warnings have recently entered the discussion due to the responses one may have when reading a book on a particular subject they may have experienced themselves, or know of someone in their own lives who went through that particular situation.
I was actually for trigger warnings when I did research for that paper (it was for my American Studies class, Intro to American Society and Culture) because I had a positive experience with a professor for my Modern Japanese Literature class who used those. I felt my learning was enhanced and it made me appreciate the literature more, especially during our unit on literature centered on the Atomic Bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But, as I started to dig deeper, I started to sway my opinion a little because of the power of literature and how authors, such as Judy Blume who has experienced having some of her books challenged or banned, felt about censorship and what that does to those who want to read challenging subjects in books.
I do agree on one thing, though: everyone should have the right to read what they choose, but censoring and challenging books doesn’t help matters. I understand why parents would feel a certain way about a book because of its content, but I don’t think taking that book away from others who love and want to read it is the best idea or example. One should be careful, but make it a teaching moment and explain why it’s a problem. Then, let someone decide for themselves. That’s just my short rant on that.
Anyway, besides reading your favorite banned/challenged book this week, what can you do to support the event? Here are a few things. You can add a Twibbon to your profile pic, I chose the “I STAND FOR THE RIGHT TO READ” Twibbon. Another, that I’m considering participating in, is the Virtual Read-Out. For the Virtual Read Out, all you have to do is submit a YouTube video no more than three minutes long (with the exception of option #4) doing any of the following things: (credit: http://bannedbooksweek.org/criteria)
- Reading of a banned/challenged book: make sure there is information about where and why the book you chose was challenged. There is also the option of including commentary are why the book is important.
- Choose a fav banned/challenged book and discuss what it meant to you; discuss how you would feel if you were prevented from reading the book
- eyewitness account: present a video of an eyewitness account of local challenges
- Promotional video: Promote Banned Books Week with a video no longer than five minutes (or American Library Association put it, a video montage)
For examples, you can check out the BannedBooksWeek YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/bannedbooksweek
How will you celebrate Banned Books Week? How do you feel about the subject of trigger warnings? What are your favorite banned/challenged books?