Welcome to Banned Books Week 2014

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Banned Books Week 2014

The last week in September is always dedicated to bringing awareness to banned or challenged books. The American Library Association explains the difference more succinctly than I can:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.

So, is it okay for you to decide that you don’t want to read a book that you find objectionable? Absolutely. Is it okay for you to decide that you don’t want your child to read a book that you find objectionable? You betcha. (Although the allure of the forbidden may cause that route to  backfire on you.) Is it okay for you to claim that a book is unfit for anyone to read and that it should be made unavailable to the public? No. Never. If I want to read something, that is my right. If you don’t want to read something, that’s your right. You don’t tread on my space, I don’t tread on yours. Easy enough, right? One would think.

Books are challenged all the time. And not just classics like The Catcher in the Rye. Current books top the lists now. Here are the top five banned/challenged books of 2013, according to the ALA website:

1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

Any surprises? There’s one part of me that isn’t generally surprised about the books that show up on these lists. If all you know about The Hunger Games is that it’s something about kids killing other kids, it does sound pretty brutal. (Just to emphasize, again, that still doesn’t give you the right to decide if anyone else gets to read it or not.) Anyone who has actually read it and not just had a knee-jerk reaction to what they think they know about it understands that it’s about much more than that. But somehow it seems that people who are frothing at the mouth to get a book removed from the shelves have rarely actually read the book that’s gotten them so worked up in the first place. Educated opinion, anyone? No thanks, they say, I’m happy jumping to all sorts of erroneous conclusions without any facts to back them up.

The reasons books are challenged frequently shock me. “Offensive language, unsuited for age group, and violence” for Captain Underpants? Are these people who’ve never watched Looney Tunes or told a fart joke in their lives? I read The Adventures of Captain Underpants a few years ago for Banned Books Week and laughed myself silly! It’s perfect for children in that 8-10 age range! The violence is cartoonish and the language is what you would expect for a book entitled Captain Underpants.

You get the idea. Not every book is for every person. I respect that. I do not respect anyone who claims to know what is best for everyone else and tries to have a book removed from a school system/library/etc.

Join me this week as I review a few banned books and try to bring attention to this ongoing problem. If we allow banning to pass unnoticed, we will lose access to some of our greatest literature, or even just some all-around fun books. Speak up and be heard.

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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  1. +JMJ+

    One thing that bothers me a little about Banned Books Week is that the status of "banned" has become pretty meaningless. Apparently, all it takes for a book to make the list is for someone to write a letter to a librarian, asking that it be removed from the public library or school library. That's hardly "banning" and it's a criterion very open to trolling–but I guess the PR people behind this were happy to sacrifice accuracy for alliteration.

    I do think there's a problem, but I don't think that it is other people trying to take away our freedoms. (The fact that Banned Books Week is a thing means that even those who try don't succeed–which means that it's effectively not a problem.) What I think we have here is deteriorated relationships in families and communities; and I'm reminded of a great analysis of parental surveillance that I once read on The Last Psychiatrist blog: he was referring to software that lets parents read all their children's social media communication, and he said (and I paraphrase), "I guarantee you that if you read their school books with them every night, you would never need to read their Facebook feed. I admit that it's easier to read the Facebook feed." (LOL!) I'd say that a similar principle applies when it comes to challenging books, whether the challengers are mostly concerned about their own children or about the larger local community. If personal connections and cultural traditions were still the strongest factor in both groups, no book would stand a chance at "corrupting the youth"–or whatever reason is given for their being challenged.

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