We’re halfway through the week, but it’s not too late to “celebrate” Banned Books Week (September 22-28). Though the First Amendment deserves constant vigilance, it is wise – particularly in these times – to acknowledge and reflect that censorship is alive, well, and a bit quirky. Banned Books Week is one of the ways we pause to refresh our commitment to free speech in whatever form and environment. More important, it is a time to actively celebrate the freedom to read and learn, express and allow others to do the same.
Banned Book Week has its roots in the early 80’s when a surge of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries burst forth. Today the week is sponsored by a coalition of booksellers, librarians, publishers, journalists, teachers ad readers committed to the freedom to “seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Sponsors of BBW are clear about the distinction between “banning” and merely “challenging” a book or other resource. “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.”
The list of books challenged in 2012 gives a flavor of what’s being banned these days. Here are the top five titles that some folks find offensive.
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
- Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
- Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
- Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
You get the idea. There are always new titles, while some chestnuts, such as the work of Toni Morrison, are perennial favorites of the banners.
Basics of BBW are on the website at http://www.bannedbooksweek.org. One of the eye-opening resources you’ll find there is a listing of the 100 most frequently challenged books listed by decade. One reaction is the realization that the more then things change, the more they remain the same. The other is the wonderment about what in heavens name someone found offensive in the challenged book!
The American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom offers some clarification on that question. The top three reasons given for challenging materials are 1.the material was considered to be “sexually explicit” 2.the material contained “offensive language” 3.the materials was “unsuited to any age group”
Lest you think the bibliophiles are stuck in the world of print, BBW 2013 is a definite social media extravaganza. For example, PEN American Center sponsored a live “hangout on air” with Sherman Alexis on Monday (Sorry to say it’s too late for that, but…
There are Twitter parties, one scheduled for Wednesday September 25, 1:00-3:00 CDT – Hashtag #bannedbooksweek.
Local independent bookstores, educational institutions, libraries and others are sponsoring events, exhibits and promotions to remind the public of the subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, challenges to the fundamental right to read, learn and express ideas.
Sponsors of BBW include these national organizations and institutions:
- American Booksellers Association
- American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
- American Library Association
- American Society of Journalists and Authors
- Association of American Publishers
- Freedom to Read Foundation
- National Association of College Stores
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
- National Coalition Against Censorship
- National Council of Teachers of English
- PEN American Center
- Project Censored