I Read (About) Banned Books #BannedBooksWeek (updated)

Banned Books Week 2014 banner via ala.org

I’m not actively participating in Banned Books Week 2014, and I am kicking myself for being so inattentive to my reading calendar. (I remember thinking, months ago, that I wanted to re-read Fahrenheit 451 during this week, but then I forgot about actually doing it.) However, I have “played in the banned” before, and my uncensored thoughts on censorship really haven’t changed:

“It’s entirely reasonable for parents to be the ones to exercise those rights on behalf of their own young children regarding what they read in their own homes, of course. But as children get older, the parents’ role–as well as the schools’–appropriately shifts toward giving kids the tools to discern what’s worth reading for themselves. It’s harder to develop that discernment when options are deliberately limited and critical thinking is discouraged. And sometimes, what’s worth reading just might ‘convey shocking, controversial or unpopular ideas.

“I thoroughly support the freedom to read what one chooses to read–and in order to make those choices well, one needs access to the full range of choices. I also believe in the freedom to choose not to read something–as long as that choice is truly mine. I do not support censorship. I don’t believe in delegating my right to decide what I can and can’t read to anyone else. I have the tools to make those decisions for myself, and I believe we all have the right to those tools.’

“…Banned Books Week calls attention to the fact that the freedom to read gets challenged every day of the year, and that we all have the right, and the responsibility, to challenge that.”

I’d like to come back to that “as children get older” comment for a minute. My sister started a brand-new part-time job as an elementary-school librarian earlier this month. (Due to budget cuts three or four years ago, none of our town’s public elementary schools has a full-time librarian. Don’t get me started.) She was hired just after the school year began, and barely had time to prepare the library for classes, let alone arrange any Banned Books Week events. However, it’s a K-6 school, and I’m not sure how book challenges and the issues surrounding them are even explored with that age group.* This century’s most frequently challenged books, with the notable exception of Captain Underpants, skew older, and for that reason alone, might not be in their school libraries anyway.

*EDITED TO ADD my sister’s e-mailed response to this post:

“I chose to discuss the concept of banned books week with the 4th and 5th grade classes. I explained why the ALA uses this week to bring awareness to these books and told them about titles in our own library had been challenged or banned at some point in time (Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, the Dumb Bunnies, The Lorax, The Witches), and I read the The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, which made the list at one point for the tree being too compliant. I explained that we should have the freedom to choose what we read and what we personally don’t want to read, too.”

Captain Underpants at Book Expo America 2012

My sister assures me that her library does indeed have Captain Underpants, and Jen at The Introverted Reader comments on that particular controversial title:

“The reasons books are challenged frequently shock me. ‘Offensive language, unsuited for age group, and violence’ for Captain Underpants? Are these people who’ve never watched Looney Tunes or told a fart joke in their lives? I read The Adventures of Captain Underpants a few years ago for Banned Books Week and laughed myself silly! It’s perfect for children in that 8-10 age range! The violence is cartoonish and the language is what you would expect for a book entitled Captain Underpants.

Banned Books Week poster via ala.org

At Books Speak Volumes, Leah makes the case for why “banned books are the best books:”

“Most of my favorite books have been banned or challenged, and that’s not a coincidence. In my opinion, the best books are the ones that challenge our beliefs or make us think about an issue in a different way. They show us perspectives that are different from our own, and that is important. These books have the power to make us more empathetic humans, if we can only come to them with open minds — if we’re willing to listen without judgement. 

“The books that make us uncomfortable can teach us really valuable things about ourselves and the world around us. Instead of being offended, we should ask ourselves WHY we are having such a visceral reaction. What is our stance on a topic, and where is the author coming from? Can we reconcile our differences in opinion? If yes, wonderful! If not, have we at least learned something new and valuable about the world? Probably.”

However, there are some less high-minded aspects to all this. In a post at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen reminds us what Banned Books Week is truly intended to “celebrate”:

“Celebrating banned books week is a marketing opportunity in many corners of the book world, and not without reason. These books are important. They deserve to be talked about. Talking about these books matters because it’s how we talk about reading, about the sharing of ideas, and about why books and words are tools for growth. 

“But there’s a fine line between celebrating banned books week and marketing books because they’ve been censored… 

“When we ‘celebrate’ banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren’t the purpose. Their being banned isn’t the celebration. 

“The celebration is intellectual freedom...The ability to read any book you wish to off any shelf anywhere is about the freedom to thought (sic). It’s about the freedom not to have to jump through hoops to pick up the book everyone is talking about. It’s about being able to decide for yourself whether or not you agree with the central premise of the book or the ideas expressed by the author of that book. It’s about your right to read and think, free from other people making those decisions on your behalf.”

Regarding those “other people making those decisions on your behalf”: they might not want to make them during Banned Books Week. Actually BANNING BOOKS during Banned Books Week is, among other things, a terrible marketing move.

Do you read banned books? Are you reading any this week?

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