Gratuitous cute kid picture. We were born to read.
This week is Banned Books Week. It is a national celebration of the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It was launched back in 1982 in response to a ridiculous surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Yep, people are still challenging and trying to ban books. Today. In 2011. In the United States. That blows your mind, right?
From the American Library Association:
Intellectual freedom- the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular- provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them. [...] Imagine how many more books might be challenged- and possibly banned or restricted- if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
Among the most frequently challenged and banned books in recent years are the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins). Good old-fashioned Young Adult fiction. I'm not ashamed to say that I've read each of these series. I read so much non-fiction that sometimes I just need to relax with a little teenage sci-fi. Is that so wrong?
Lest you think it is all about wizardry and vampires, have you heard of these obscure and wildly controversial books?
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
- To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Yep, and those were on the most challenged books in the last decade. Not just 50 or 60 years ago, but from the period 2000-2009. You may also be interested to know that Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed is on that list. Why? Challengers say that it presents a biased view of capitalism. Do you know the premise? The author takes a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of America's working poor. She takes on low-wage jobs in various communities and describes the difficulty of subsisting on poverty-level, service sector wages and the lack of support for low-wage workers in this country. Biased? Only if you mean that her "bias" is that of an average, low-income American. Of someone who works two or three jobs just to keep a roof over their head, who earns too much to receive public benefits but not enough to survive, who struggles to afford childcare and food and health services. I guess I call it reality, not bias.
A few other personal favorites from the frequently challenged book list are: any and all Judy Blume books (especially Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret), Beloved (Toni Morrison), Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson), Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut) and The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini).
I will say that, if you are a parent, I'm totally down with making sure your kids are reading age-appropriate material. Having just finished the whacked out trilogy The Hunger Games, I'm not so sure how comfortable I would feel if my pre-teen was reading it. That storyline is insane. Insane. It's a parenting decision, and that's valid. To challenge the very existence of the book, though, to call for it's removal from public libraries, to argue that it ought never to have been written... that is censorship, pure and simple. It's an attempt to take away the freedom to write, the freedom to read and learn and the freedom to make your own decisions. To call for censorship in public libraries, which in many communities are relied upon more by lower- and middle-income readers, is to perpetuate gaps in education and achievement. When you take away the rights of certain people to read certain books, you disenfranchise entire communities and prevent the spread of knowledge.
Celebrate Banned Book Week by picking up a copy of your favorite banned or challenged book and revel in the freedom you have to read it. Better yet, go support your local public library for standing up to challengers and for protecting the freedom of speech. Have you read this declaration of support for intellectual freedom? Hallelujah.