Banned Books Week

Can Banned Books Week Be A Celebration?

Here on The Unapologetic Bookworm, Banned Books Week has been focused on sharing some of my favorite challenged/banned titles, as well as drawing attention to censorship. I’ve spent time discussing why certain books have been challenged, and also given some reasons for reading them. I’ve even issued some challenges of my own this week, including:

  • Taking time out to educate yourself about modern-day censorship and how it affects society,
  • Watching videos about banning (and burning) books,
  • Reading a challenged or banned book (including comic books),
  • Creating a Virtual Read-Out video,
  • Seeking out and reading a book someone else told you was “bad” so you can form your own opinion,
  • And looking at the NCTE list of books that were either challenged or banned between 2002 and 2018.

This week I’ve been following a lot of Banned Books Week conversations taking place on Twitter. People have shared pictures of themselves reading banned books, quotes from favorite authors on the subject of censorship, and pictures of banned book displays at their local library. There have even been some fantastic articles and videos shared about books like the Harry Potter series and The Hate U Give. I’ve retweeted some of my favorites, which you can find by following me @UnapologBkworm.

What’s interesting is that some individuals have approached the week as a celebration of our right to read, while others have been critical of those who do so.

And so I have to pose the question… How should we approach Banned Books Week?

I have a hard time answering this question. I can certainly see why many people choose to treat Banned Books Week as a literary holiday and, let’s face it, the freedom to read is something that should be celebrated. Libraries across the country have set up displays of banned books, and more than one school librarian has mentioned on Twitter that books from those displays have been checked out at a pretty fast rate.

On the other hand, how can we celebrate when there are many people in our country (and around the world) who are currently being denied access to books because of censorship? The following infographic comes from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom…

There are a lot of reasons that people give when challenging a book, but if you take a look at the section titled “Reasons for Book Challenges” on the infographic, it’s clear that books containing LGBTQIA+ content are the most frequently challenged. In fact, out of the eleven “top challenged” books in 2018, nearly half were challenged for this reason.

One of the things I love about reading is encountering a character that I can relate to on a personal level. Try to imagine being in a position where you’re unable to find books with characters you relate to; not because they aren’t being written, but because someone on the school board has decided that your ethnicity, faith, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. is in some way inappropriate for you and your classmates to read about. Acts of censorship like this only serve to marginalize people.

While it seems like we most frequently hear about books being banned in schools, did you know that there are prisons all across America where books are actively being banned? According to the PEN America website, there was even a program introduced in the federal prison system that required prisoners “to pay a 30 percent markup to buy books from authorized dealers.” In a previous post, I mentioned a study that showed that reading fiction increased people’s empathy. If that study is correct, we should be sending books to prisons by the truckload, not making people pay more money for the right to read.

But let’s circle back around to the question of “celebration” vs. “observance.”

I understand where people are coming from when they say that Banned Books Week shouldn’t be treated like a holiday. There’s nothing fun about being informed that you can’t have a certain book in your library or classroom. I know. I’ve been there. Banned Books Week really is not a celebration for those who are being marginalized and denied literature that speaks to their life experiences.

One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. In addition to writing Fahrenheit 451, among other amazing titles, Bradbury provided us with a tremendous amount of wisdom, like the following statement:

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Ray Bradbury

I think whether you treat Banned Books Week as a holiday or a more solemn observance is completely up to you. It’s a choice I’ve struggled with this week, and I’m currently planted firmly on the fence. While I certainly want to celebrate my freedom to read, the fact that censorship is still alive and well in this country means that we still have work to do.

And yet, if the activities and library displays that were created for this week cause even one reluctant reader to pick up a book and read, then I think that librarian or teacher has accomplished something that can, and should, be celebrated.

Maybe that book will encourage that child to change our world.

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