Across America this week a light is being shone on books that some people would prefer remain in the dark. The American Library Association is celebrating Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read and the First Amendment.
I've struggled with what to write for Banned Books Week. I've written about banned books and censorship so many times that sometimes I feel like a broken record. I feel a bit like a character in Orwell's Animal Farm. "Books good! Book banning bad!"
The reason I keep talking about it is because it keeps happening. It was just last week that I, and so many others, spoke up to say that Laurie Halse-Anderson's Speak is not pornography. Weeks before that it was Ellen Hopkins being disinvited to a teen author festival. This week Maureen Johnson pointed out that a woman who got a warning label slapped onto her book The Bermudez Triangle is now aiming for it to get similar treatment across the whole library system.
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- you don't have to approve of a book. You don't have to read it. You don't have to permit your children to read it. But that doesn't mean the kid down the street shouldn't have access to it.
This year, perhaps because of the events I mentioned above, I find that people are digging deeper into their thoughts on book banning. Becky offers an English teacher's perspective on Banned Books Week.
Experience has taught me that students will approach a book if they feel ready. Students that I thought would struggle with the content of a book have surprised me with their ability to reach greater meaning from stories I had to warn them about before reading. Does that mean a student or reader is not "savvy" or "smart" if they don't wish to expose themselves to a book with questionable content? I say no, because I respect their opinions as I would hope they would respect those who do want to read a challenged novel. As with any conflict of interest, it seems to boil down to a respect for the beliefs and thoughts of others.
The Shelf Life, a university bookstore blog, talks Banned Books Week and reminds us that good books - really good books - aren't safe from censorship.
It doesn't matter if we like a book: if it gets banned somewhere, it deserves support from people passionate about intellectual freedom. As a bookstore, we want to celebrate people's right to read. And it particularly burns when a book you love, a book that you know is spectacular, gets banned or challenged. Especially when it seems like a particularly important book, a book that you know has had an impact on teenagers all over the country. Winning an award won't save a book from being challenged or banned. Knockout writing won't either.
Amy thinks that people who attempt to ban books are trying to take the easy way out.
By challenging norms, books make us challenge ourselves. Books that make you think are often the ones that get banned. We should be confident enough in who we are and what we are to be able to handle reading about dissenting views. In a country with free speech, no books should be banned. For any reason.
Celebrate your freedom to read this week. Read a banned book.
Photo Credit: San Jose Library.
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