I was in the seventh grade when I discovered Tropic of Cancer and Topic of Capricorn, books written by Henry Miller, were banned from my school’s library. I was doing research for a geography assignment. I tell you this so that you fully understand my naiveté before this discovery, little less naïve afterward. You see, while my school had banned the books, my local library had not. As an adult I have often wondered at the effectiveness/consequences of banning a book. Would I have ever read those books if I hadn’t been told I wasn’t allowed to? Probably, but they most definitely would not have had the same impact they did on twelve-year-old me. Needless to say there was quite a lot of discussion among my classmates for a few weeks after my “discovery” and then among the faculty and school board shortly after. My defense? I was promoting literacy.
I got off easy but the memory has stayed with me.
This memory was stirred by the fact that National Banned Book Week is nearly here. Running from September 25-October 1, 2016, the goal of this week is to bring together everyone in the “book community— librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular” (Banned). This week is meant to start a discussion among us all to remember that while we are lucky to live where and when we do, that does not mean we are not still effected by the banning of books here and throughout the world.
Many of the books that are banned or challenged have to do with diversity. When we don’t want people to have access to a book because it is written by someone different than ourselves, or addresses a culture different from our own, what does that say about us? Some governments ban books because they feel the ideas within threaten their power. Is it the same when an individual wants to ban a book? Are they doing it because they feel threatened? That is the world we live in though; ideas, laws, cultures, and diversity should be discussed, debated, and explored. It is what will make us stronger and healthier as a whole.
“Healthier societies do not hold back debates, even when they may disagree with them. They allow them oxygen to see how worthy of consideration they are. Ideas can shock or offend. Robust societies can cope with that, and even feel healthier for it” (Jolly).
There are several activities locally in celebration of National Banned Book Week that seek to bring awareness to the history and ongoing struggle with restricting access to books. Included is a month long promotion by D.C. public libraries. They will be hiding several hundred copies of books, all banned or challenged at one time, in businesses in all eight wards. What they are calling The “UNCENSORED banned books” scavenger hunt started September 6 and goes throughout the month. The books are wrapped in a cover that describes the history of the book and why it was banned or challenged. You can follow the action on social media with #UncensoredDC or to learn more about the program and how you can get your own free banned book visit here.
This is just one example of what will be happening throughout the country, there are several others and some from previous years I encourage you to explore. One of the past stories I think is worthy of exploration is the story of a local librarian who banned a book. All of these activities, stories, and celebrations are designed to make you think, be aware, and maybe even fight back.
I hope you will take a little time this month to reflect on banned books. Have you ever encountered a situation where you were told you couldn’t read something? Did you find a way to read it anyway? Did it make you see your world differently? Do you agree the work should have been banned? Do you want to be a part of a society that can have these discussions?
*Disclaimer: I am in no way promoting the content of any “banned book”- simply promoting literacy.
- “Banned “, American Library Association, dynamically generated page.http://www.ala.org/bbooks/ (Accessed September 9, 2016)
- Jolly, Rachael. “What does book banning say about society and government?”, SAGE Connection. http://connection.sagepub.com/blog/opinions/2013/09/25/what-does-book-banning-say-about-society-and-government/ September 25, 2013. (Accessed September 09, 2016)
- Stein, Perry. “D.C. will hide once-banned books throughout the city this month”. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2016/09/08/banned-books-will-be-hidden-all-over-d-c-this-month/ September 8, 2016. (Accessed September 8, 2016)
- DiMarco, Scott. “I’m a librarian who banned a book. Here’s why.” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/im-a-librarian-who-banned-a-book-heres-why-48427 October 2, 2015. (Accessed September 9, 2016)