Banned Books Week is probably my favorite event on the calendar of library and literary events. It is a celebration of the freedom to read whatever you want, the freedom from censorship. It also provides encouragement to those who are still fighting for the right to read – those whose state Board of Education presidents want Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the classroom, those who miss out on hearing Rainbow Rowell – author of the excellent Eleanor & Park – speak at their school or public library because a few parents in the community object to the swear words in the book. (Those are just two recent examples; read more about them in my Banned Books Week post on the Robbins Library blog.)
Last year for Banned Books Week, I wrote about which books were most commonly banned or challenged, and who did the challenging; I also shared a few of my favorite “better book titles for banned books.” Two years ago, less punctually, I shared a quote from Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (which I am certain has been challenged many times since its publication). Also in 2011, I wrote about attending the panel “Whose Common Sense?” at the ALA Annual Conference, where the four panelists (including David Levithan!) discussed why books for teens should not be labeled or censored.
Even if you don’t pick up a book this week, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you could, if you wanted, and that no one would try to control your reading choices, or keep something out of reach because they thought it was inappropriate. We should all get to make our own reading choices.
To close, I’ll quote my co-worker Rebecca, who authored a column for the local paper about Banned Books Week. She wrote, “There’s great value in discussion, and books are, by far, the safest route into many of these discussions (i.e., reading and talking about that book the deals with teen pregnancy is preferable to your teen talking to you about what it’s like to be pregnant). Books are safe spaces to experience new things. New thoughts. New ideas. Different points of view. They are a way to journey back in time and careen far into the future. Books teach us how to empathize with each other, how to stand up for the little guy, and how to recognize the bad guys in our lives….We experience strong emotion alongside our favorite characters – joy, catharsis, loss, excitement. Books are a safe way to learn about life, without all the painful bumps and bruises.”
When the opportunity arises, stand up for your own right to read, and help defend others’ right to read as well. Books change lives – almost always for the good. What’s one book you read that changed your life? A book you’re glad you didn’t miss out on? A book you’d recommend to others? Here are a few banned/challenged books that I wholeheartedly love and recommend: