This week is Banned Books Week, so I’m taking this opportunity to talk about something that I have a strong opinion about: banning and censoring books.
“We must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” (Cassandra Clare)
Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda” (via lithub). While there are several varied reasons for banning or censoring books, sexual issues, age appropriateness, and the inclusion of witchcraft are pretty common. At one point, the poetry collection Howl (which is brilliant, by the way) was actually put on trial. The defendants had to prove that it had “literary merit.”
You’d think that, in this day and age, book banning or censoring is over and done with. Nope. The face of book banning may have changed, but there are always books being pulled from shelves or school libraries for all kinds of reasons.
Now, where do I stand on book banning and censorship? I am unequivocally against it. If you don’t agree with an idea a book is presenting, you absolutely have the right to choose not to read it. But denying others the right to make that decision for themselves is a slippery slope. Who should get to decide what content is appropriate for everyone?
The wonderful and-yes, sometimes scary- thing about books is how incredibly powerful they can be. They can comfort, educate, and challenge us. Books have the magical ability to both show us how vast this world is, while at the same time reminding us, that maybe we’re not so different or alone after all.
The list of banned and challenged books (a challenged book being one that a group has attempted to have access of removed or restricted) is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter is one of the most commonly challenged book series to date. Of course, don’t forget to add the Bible to the list: often challenged for violent content.
In fact, speaking of Harry Potter, I was told at one point that I needed to meet with someone to discuss my “unhealthy obsession with witchcraft” simply for reading those books. I was twenty eight years old at the time. See what I’m talking about when I say that book banning or censoring could become a dangerous slope?
I proudly say that I read banned and challenged books. My kids read them (I was so excited when they were introduced to Where the Wild Things Are). In fact, if you’re a reader, chances are you’ve enjoyed a book that’s been challenged or banned- whether you were aware of it or not.
There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.
What about you, Reader? Do you think books should be banned or censored? What “questionable” books have you read and loved? What books have changed you or caused you to see things differently?
Now, go live dangerously. READ.
*For more information about commonly challenged books over the years, check out http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10).
(credit: Grand Snider)