Banned Books Week 2021: Read Dangerously

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson

Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!

According to the American Library Association, “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.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.

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) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.

Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.

Courtesy of The American Library Association

The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.

When you ban a book, you reveal yourself.– Brad Meltzer

The list of banned and challenged books 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. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.

Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.

So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).

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.

Live dangerously. Read.

Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Bible

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Live and Let Read: My Thoughts on Banned and Censored Books

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).

Image Credit: Grant Snider