Why You Should Read Banned Books
I couldn’t let Banned Books Week pass without writing a post about it. One of the things I enjoy most about being a bibliophile is having a wide array of reading material to choose from, on all kinds of subjects.
This week is about celebrating having the freedom to choose what we read.
Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to the increasing amount of challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries across the globe.
According to The American Library Association‘s Field Report 2016 on Banned & Challenged Books: A “challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict a book, whereas a “ban” is the actual removal of the book…The challenges were brought by parents, by government bodies, and in some cases by school officials. The decisions on whether to retain the books were by school boards, courts, and committees.”
Some of the most popular and well written books in American literature have been challenged or banned, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Les Miserables, 1984, and Of Mice and Men. Many popular contemporary titles have faced the same fate: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Lovely Bones, and The Glass Castle, to name a few.
Challenges are brought against titles for any number of reasons someone may find the book to be “inappropriate.” That can be use of profane language, sexual content, violence, or the general addressing of controversial topics such as a homosexual character or a rape scene.
The issue is, “inappropriate” is subjective. What’s offensive to one reader, may not even show up on the radar or another.
This week, a friend and I were discussing Sherman Alexie’s brilliant Young Adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been challenged every year since its publication in 2007. We both recently read Alexie’s memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, in which he mentions facing the controversy around that YA book. My friend said she didn’t know that book had been banned and doesn’t remember anything “bad” in the book from when she read it. I said “I think he mentions boners a couple of times? The narrator is an adolescent boy after all.” In context, none of the book’s content is gratuitous or offensive to us.
So why should we care, and why should we all make an effort to read these controversial and Banned Books?
As a lover of books, and a writer myself, I want to have not only a wide variety of material to read for inspiration, but also the freedom to write about whatever I want to. I have certainly submitted pieces for publication, or posted to my blog, about topics I feared may generate some backlash. It’s scary, yet it’s part of what drives me to share my writing with the public. I want to inspire an emotional response. I’d rather someone read my essay and disagree with me, initiating a discussion, than say “Meh,” and never think about my piece again.
We have a responsibility to the generations coming after us, to preserve these controversial works, regardless of whether or not the material is “appropriate.”