Sept 24 – Oct 1
Banned Books Week is underway. The idea is that by drawing attention to the fact that some books have been banned, those books can be drawn out as emblematic of the idea of freedom of speech. Because if an entity can control what you read, it can control what you think. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I didn’t make it up. Read Fahrenheit 451. The truth is, books are ideas.
This year marks one of the most aggressive Banned Books Week campaigns I have ever seen. It started weeks ago. So long ago, in fact, that I had to check the date to make sure they hadn’t moved up the observance. Banned Books Week has been sponsored by the American Library Association since 1982 and typically covers the last week in September.
Some of the most well-loved literature of the past one hundred years has been banned, at one time or another, by some entity or another. A book can be banned by a school board, a library system, or any other governing board. Banned Books Week brings banned books back to life. In fact, last week, a work by Mark Twain called “Eve’s Diary” has been put back on the shelf by the Charlton Public Library trustees (in Massachusetts). The short story had been banned in 1906. It was banned due to explicit illustrations. Yes, Eve was naked.
Books can be banned for many reasons, but it’s usually because some person or group doesn’t like an element or message in the book. That is, some person is deciding that this book is so bad, that it cannot be read by anyone else. This is after a publishing house has accepted and published it, and usually after many people have bought it. Books can be banned for foul language, sexual content, alternative lifestyle messages, violence, or because someone at some time thought they promoted the occult.
But we don’t need someone to tell us what we can and cannot read. And that is the beauty of Banned Books Week. If you don’t like something, don’t read it. If I want to read something, I want it to be available. Even if I don’t want to read something, I want it to be available for those that might like it.
This year’s theme is fREADdom – Celebrate the Right to Read. This year, the ALA put out a special call (which may account for the early publicity blitz). They are calling it the Virtual Read-out! and it is the centerpiece of this year’s Banned Books Week celebration. Everyone is invited to create a video of themselves reading from their favorite banned or challenged book and upload it to a special YouTube channel. Videos of challenged authors and other celebrities will be posted on YouTube during the campaign.
You can also see some authors reading from a banned or challenged book on the blog of The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the ALA. Check your local library or bookstore for banned book events and displays. Check online lists of banned books to pick out your favorite and decide what to read next week.
Banned books include such incredible classics as The Great Gatsby by St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Beloved by Toni Morrison. Many of George Orwell’s works are on the list of Banned and Challenged Classics. You’ll also find several Hemingways, Gone with the Wind, and The Lord of the Rings on the list. Charlotte’s Web was banned – because someone thought that talking animals was unnatural. Charlotte’s Web!
Take the challenge, make a video and post it. There’s just one question to ask this week: what banned book are you reading? I’m picking up my much-loved copy of Charlotte’s Web and shed some tears over a pig and a spider.