***My 250th Blog Post
Banned and challenged books have become a “hot topic” in 2022; or maybe the Shutdown brought more attention to them because many people returned to reading due to the Pandemic. Yes, throughout 2020 and 2021 A LOT of attention was given to books about race and ethnic issues. Then earlier this year, the issue of women’s rights was centerstage when the issue of abortion was “overturned” in the U.S. and when, once again, the oppression of girls and women led to death in the Middle East. These main issues as well as conspiracy theories and hate groups relaunching their campaigns have reintroduced the U.S. to the “controversy” surrounding banned books.
2022 started with the graphic novel, Maus—the award-winning, ground-breaking memoir—presented as a graphic novel—about the (second) Holocaust, getting banned and removed from a classroom in Tennessee—which, would be the first of many book bans leading up to a public book burning in the same state a few days later. Next, you had public libraries (including one in my region) remove book displays in the Children’s (and some Teen) sections—particularly the LGBTQ+ books for Pride Month—as per the Library Board of Trustees, NOT the librarians. In some cases, after public outcry and “emergency” board meetings, the displays were restored. Then recently, Salman Rushdie was attacked by a madman/radical who was carrying out a death sentence against the author due to the ban of his novel, The Satanic Verses, which was published before the attacker was born (and, rumored to have read around the first 10 pages of the book). This comes after Christian, conservative, and/or hate groups barged into events at public libraries and bookstores (some with guns) to “protest” events surrounding Pride and multicultural events.
Now, it’s Banned Books Week, and readers, librarians, and educators are expected to “celebrate” the week by “acknowledging” these books. And yet, as one librarian put it (paraphrasing): we’re celebrating censorship instead of working year-round to stop it completely. That individual is correct. We all scramble to end literary censorship daily, but we need 1 week to “highlight” why this issue continues to be problematic. Why haven’t we done more to stop books from being challenged and banned (and burned)? Why does America continue to emulate “religious” regions when it comes to reading and accessing these books?
Books are challenged and/or banned often; however, it seems more recent publications are getting the “unwanted” attention. On a serious note, if you were to look over at the “collective” list from the last ~20 years, then you’ll notice that not only are the recent titles: New Kid and Gender Queer are on it, but also Beloved which was published in 1988 (and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction!). In fact, I was shocked to learn Speak made it back onto the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books Lists (since its release in 1999). What do all of these books have in common? They all contain content surrounding continuous issues within (U.S.) society. Beloved, To Kill a Mockingbird and New Kid contains elements of the Black American Experience from slavery to Jim Crow to modern day passive aggressive racism. Speak is about the trauma a victim of rape experiences from her schoolmates, which offers some insight into what some victims of sexual assault go through. Gender Queer is a memoir about the author’s sexual awakening and understanding of their sexual orientation.
The saying: “Art reflects Life” does apply to literature ALL THE TIME. All of the modern-day fiction—especially the ones for children and teens—reflect current times going as far back as a few years ago to what may or may not happen within the next few years. In turn, the books with the most critical acclaim and public praise end up becoming “classics” which end up as assigned reading in schools and in colleges across the country. Could this be “the heart” of banned books? Denizens of society do not want to admit times are changing, which means society’s outlook on the world must change with it. Is it really so bad to replace The Catcher in the Rye with Looking for Alaska?
As someone who grew up during the “Harry Potter Phenomenon” which reignited reading as being “popular” alongside with it being “problematic,” who worked in the U.S. school system and who is now a librarian, I still don’t understand why individuals continue to believe books “need to be banned to protect the public from ‘ideas’.” What “ideas”? You means learning about the history of our country? Or, how a group of individuals experience life which differs from the mainstream and/or the status quo? Yes, some books should be assigned reading in schools, yet I’m NOT going to dictate which books should and shouldn’t be read by anyone. Unless it concerns reading level, parental permission, and/or preferred genre(s), I can’t force anyone not to read a book. Just because you do not like a book does not mean someone else will have the same thoughts as you. Similar to movies, TV shows, music, and video games, if you don’t like something from those media, then you don’t have to have anything to do with it. That being said, I believe you should read some of the books that are banned and/or challenged because they will provide insight into the ongoings within our society, and for you to determine for yourself whether or not it book is “inappropriate” for ANY reason. There are times when things get out of hand because someone got the “wrong impression” of something. If you don’t like it, then say so and leave it alone. Starting campaigns because you find something offensive does NOT always have the result you want it to have.
If we want to continue believing the U.S. is a “progressive” country with “liberty and freedom” for all its citizens, then we must allow basic rights to continue being available for everyone. There are 2 essential rights every U.S. citizen is entitled to, and the first one cannot be obtained until each individual is 18 years-old: the right to vote. However, there is no age restriction for obtaining the second right, which is the right to obtain a library card in order to have access to the public library. Libraries are public spaces of information available for everyone. So, why do we continue restricting funds and content to them due to personal preferences? The easiest way to combat banned and challenged books is to read them for yourself; and, since not everyone can afford to buy the book for themselves (in any format), borrowing books from libraries is the next best thing individuals can do to support the authors, and in turn, their communities.
Books are essential instruments containing knowledge which is why they will always be the subject for public scrutiny. Fiction are narratives which provides experiences for the audience to have that are not what they would have in their lifetime. Nonfiction contain (proven) facts about our world and all of the societies within it as they occurred and as they continue to happen. Banning and challenging these books do not make the issues and the experiences vanish. Instead this practice continues to expose the desired ignorance a handful of individuals want for themselves and others because they hope to continue living in the same realm of obliviousness that has served to their advantage. Books such as these are living proof that the world does not revolve around a single societal notion. READ ALL BOOKS.
4 thoughts on “Banned & Challenged Books: When Society Overrides Personal Choice”
I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve been meaning to get up a Banned Books Week post, but haven’t gotten around to it. But, as you say, the issue is one that needs more than one week of attention!
Personally, I’ve always been ambivalent about Banned Books Week because something about it feels off. Libraries would put up displays of Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte’s Web, and people would pat themselves on the back for reading those books even though many of them aren’t really controversial and the reasons for their being challenged sometimes seemed almost humorous. But things feel different now.
We’re seeing an unprecedented number of books being challenged through organized attempts of groups who want entire lists banned! And many books that seem to be targeted just because of the protagonists’ identities! Suddenly Banned Books Week feels very, very relevant.
And I think we do need to have these conversations. It’s not the library’s job to tell people what is or is not “appropriate.” People should be trusted to read and make their own decisions. We should not be afraid of ideas. And we should not have a few people in a community deciding what everyone else’s kids are and are not allowed to read.
Hopefully more people will start paying attention to what is happening and speak up!
Thank you for your thoughts. And, you’re right that society needs to stop reading “Banned Books” as “accomplishments” because those books were written as “fiction” by the author. Whether or not a “moral” can be found within the narrative is up to the reader to determine because the author already wrote their thoughts in the book!
Wonderful post! I agree 100%. Banned books just make me want to read them more. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and it teaches such important lessons.