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It’s time for Banned Books Week 2020! This is the reading community’s annual campaign to bring awareness to the problems of book banning and censorship. I normally plan a full week of reviews and posts but it snuck up on me this year. As I write this, I have a review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (banned for “pornography,” violence, and “human elimination”) scheduled for Wednesday but that’s all for now. I’m going to try to read and review at least one other banned book this week because this is an important topic to me.
I just looked up the top 10 most frequently challenged books for 2019. There’s one recurrent theme in the complaints: LGBTQIA+ content. Seriously. Individuals challenged eight of the ten titles for this reason. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (challenged because of “vulgarity and sexual overtones”) and the Harry Potter series (challenged because of its magic content) round out the catalog. (I find the top ten list a bit ironic this year given the controversy surrounding J. K. Rowling)
*Please note I’ve done my best to use correct terminology and phrasing below. If I’ve made any offensive errors, please let me know (nicely) in the comments or my contact form and I will correct them as soon as possible.
Some of my loved ones are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I love them wholeheartedly as they are and it makes me happy to see them happy. Some of them knew they didn’t fit the mold expected of them at very early ages but they didn’t have the words to express how they felt or they were afraid to come out to their families. Imagine how empowering it would have been for them to read books about characters and people who felt the same way they did and how reassuring it would have been to know they weren’t alone!
LGBTQIA+ youth are 5x more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens. I lost one of my best friends to suicide five years ago (not for this reason) and to this day I miss him and wish I could have helped him. What if access to books like these could help struggling LGBTQIA+ people? Why are book banners willing to risk another group’s safety and well-being for their own comfort?
Current generations have resources that my generation and the ones before us didn’t really have. Members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community are writing the very books they wish they could have read when they were younger. They’re normalizing their own feelings and helping those of us who want to be good allies to understand and learn the language and the issues. I applaud their bravery and their cause!
LGBTQIA+ content is only one of many reasons that books are challenged. Sex and violence are other frequent reasons. But sex and violence can be ways to make an important point, a point that those who seek to ban certain titles obviously miss. Books can present a lot of ideas that are scary or uncomfortable. They can cause us to question long-held beliefs. Isn’t that part of the beauty of reading though? The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience the world as they see it? The ability to test my beliefs and either decide that yes, I still believe that, or no, I was wrong?
I would never tell someone else what they can or can’t read. I will tell you if I liked a book and I’ll try to tell you why but your choices are yours, not mine. I don’t want someone else deciding what I can read either. Take a look at the most frequently-challenged classics and see the literature we might never have experienced if a small-minded busybody had gotten his or her way and successfully had it widely and/or permanently banned.
These are all important issues and I hope you’ll explore them for yourself during Banned Books Week.
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in beautiful Asheville, NC. I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase merchandise through links on my site.