Banned Books Week is intended to provide awareness for the books that have been challenged or outright banned at any point in history. It was founded by The American Library Association (ALA) to promote the idea that the freedom to read whatever, wherever, should be a right of the people. We should be able to decide what is and is not suitable for our own consumption. And that nobody can dictate to others what they should not be consuming. In other words, I’ll do me and you do you and the world will be a better place. Every individual is capable of deciding why a book is good, important or trash. It is a personal decision that should be left to the readers.

That being said, there is a history of the government, church and community dictating what is and is not appropriate for mass consumption. This can be done with the innocent guise of protecting against terrorism, like banning manifestos. Or what someone may perceive as propaganda and “dangerous” how-to manuals. It could be done under the pretense of keeping a corrupting influence away from children. For example, did you know Harry Potter has been banned by religious groups for being about sorcery? At the core of banning literature is the simple act of gatekeeping. Be it intentionally keeping certain knowledge locked away or keeping topics banished out of fear of the unknown.

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is typically observed the last week of September annually. For 2021, the theme of the week is Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us. The focus of the theme is that unrestricted reading access brings the world together. Per the Banned Books Week website, “Sharing stories important to us means sharing a part of ourselves. Books reach across boundaries and build connections between readers.” By banning books, no matter the reasoning, this union between people of all walks of life becomes more difficult.

The official Banned Books Week 2021 poster provided by The American Library Association.

The official Banned Books Week 2021 poster provided by The American Library Association.

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Famous Banned Books

The banning of books is nothing new. Even burning books, a famous act of Hitler and the Nazis, is an ancient tradition. Folks still mourn the loss of the Library of Alexandria – even today! But did you know that many of the classics taught in classrooms once were banned, burned or challenged? One of the more famous that still gets challenged is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – and not just for its use of language. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain has been banned in multiple countries and locations for promoting ill-spent youth, as well as its depiction of slavery and the language used during Twain’s lifetime. George Orwell‘s Animal Farm and 1984 both have bans for Orwell’s personal politics, the political agenda behind the books and also various religious objections.

Speaking of religious-based objections, Harry Potter does not stand alone. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins are among the lengthy list of popular books that have been banned by religious groups or for religious reasons. What drives these objections? Many are pushed under the broad bucket of “blasphemous,” though some are simply the fact that they challenge readers to think beyond their religious texts.

The list of famously challenged and banned books is pretty lengthy. The ALA has an extensive list if you want to see more and read why they were banned.

Burning book scene from Paramount/Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Burning book scene from Paramount Pictures / Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Not Just History

Challenging or banning books is not anything of the past, either. Recently, there has been a push to incorporate what is called Critical Race Theory in the classroom. The goal is to dive deeper into the why of history and not just focus on the end result. There has been much politicization and controversy from misunderstanding this push for a more in-depth study of history textbooks. The backlash has included blind obstruction to anything that is not “standard” to the status quo. Recently, in Pennsylvania, there were children’s books among material banned by a school board because the authors, main characters or subject matter were about people of color. Children’s books!

Yes, this decision was ultimately overturned, but the point is, books are still being targeted today. Someone, somewhere, is trying to limit access to something in the literary world right now. And that is why Banned Books Week is important. 

I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer and Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin were among the children's books listed in the ban by a York Pennsylvania school board. A red bar with the word "banned" struck through in white text overlays the book covers.

I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer and Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin were among the children’s books listed in the ban by a York Pennsylvania school board.

Read to Rebel

How do we combat something that seems to be near-constant? We read. We read to rebel against those that seek to keep literature out of our hands. The more we read, the more ammunition we have to arm ourselves to fight back when the objection to a book is raised. We read to fight back when someone else tries to tell us a book is not appropriate. How will we know if it is appropriate for us if we do not consume it?

Sure, a parent should have the right to decide what is best for their child. But the general populous is not their child. We are our own autonomous human beings. We decide for ourselves what we wish to expose ourselves to. If that happens to be a book that explores explicit content, then so be it. If that book raises a middle finger to The Man, who cares? What I read has zero effect on anyone else and that is why I choose to rebel against the banning of books. Dare to rebel with me. 

Remember: Books unite us. Let’s come together over a good story and fight against censorship.

Resources Used

Take time out of your day to read through the ALA website or the official Banned Books Week website for more information. Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s ENGL130 has a page dedicated to Banned Books and is referenced in this article.

 

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Talyna
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