Celebrate Your Freedom to Read
“Oh don’t you see?” Hermione breathed. “If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!" -Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Last week was Banned Books Week, which began as an annual celebration in September 1982 after an increase in challenges to books in schools, libraries, and even bookstores. However, despite books being challenged or banned from a curriculum or library, many copies are still available and accessible to readers nationwide.
It’s only the third week of my internship at the Loft, and I promise you Lofties that I will resist the temptation to bring up Harry Potter in every other blog post, but I couldn’t help myself this time. When Harry was interviewed for The Quibbler and he was finally able to reveal information about Cedric Diggory’s death and Voldemort’s return, the newspaper was immediately banned from the school. However, students and professors found a way to discover the truth. The same thing happens during Banned Books Week (and year-round, if you know what’s good for you).
When a book is banned in the U.S., it provides an opportunity for readers to engage, discuss, and share their opinions on the risky book. Do you agree with the motion to ban it? Do you think it’s full of ideas that we actually should be revealing to our nation’s youth? But will it corrupt your children? Will it provide the point of view you’ve never before considered and open your mind to new possibilities? Really, all of these things are possible when reading a book.
"Yes, books are dangerous.
They should be dangerous—they contain ideas."
–Pete Hautman, author of Godless
So why are books challenged? Why do people try to get them removed from public bookshelves?
The top 10 challenged books of 2012 include children's, YA, romance, and the best memoir I’ve ever read. These books are accused of having offensive language, suicide, and sexuality, or of being violent, sexually explicit, and unsuitable for the age group. I was interested in the accusations of books containing religious viewpoints because both The Kite Runner and Beloved were charged last year. Different people challenge books for different reasons. One may wish her child is not exposed to Islam in The Kite Runner, while her neighbor wishes he wouldn’t see Christian themes of Beloved on the school reading list.
In an episode of Parks and Recreation, we learn how offensive a book can be to people for a variety of reasons. At a public forum to determine which items the city should put into a time capsule for 50 years, a citizen wanted Twilight to be included to impress his Twi-hard daughter, but two others refuted the case. One woman said it was anti-Christian with too much "quivering," and a man claimed it had overt Christian themes and had no place in a government-funded project.
“Something will be offensive to someone in every book,
so you've got to fight it.” –Judy Blume, author of Forever
Perhaps the most intriguing trial of this year involved the National Book Award-winning The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It was recently banned from a summer reading program in a North Carolina school district for being too “filthy” for teenagers, and one school board member said he couldn’t “find any literary value." The debate occurred just before Banned Books Week, and word quickly spread across social media and national news coverage. The publisher, Vintage Books, began donating free copies at a local bookstore. By the end of last week, the school board lifted the ban, admitting they had rushed the decision.
The widely publicized story inspired many people to speak out against challenges on books, defending their right to read, learn, and share ideas. Banned Books Week has become a celebration of literature and ideas and the power they hold. How have you celebrated your freedom to read?
Taylor Trauger is the Marketing and Communications Intern at the Loft Literary Center. You can follow her on Twitter @taylortrauger.