A childhood highlight was getting — and using — a library card. It was the same for my mother. She tells about choosing her books and facing a librarian who would not let her check them out because she was “too young.” I would love to have been a fly on the wall the next day when my five-foot-nothing grandma marched into the library to share her opinion about banned books, and to inform the staff that her daughter was permitted to read anything she chose.
It’s Banned Books Week, and I’d like to think that censorship, book burning, and banned book are far behind us. But, as I write this, social media is alive with an intense first amendment debate, and I don’t have to look too far in the rearview mirror to remember a several-hundred-acre wildfire started by someone burning books. And, as I began to research banned books? The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a recent favorite I found on the list.
Banned Books week is sponsored by the American Library Association and, according to Newsweek, is “both a celebration of freedom and a warning against censorship.” I was also surprised to learn that Banned Books week is only about 35 years old and began in response to a sharp increase in challenges to books in schools, libraries, and bookstores. A significant increase — in 1982. Publishing powerhouse J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a frequent target of censors as is, apparently, almost anything by Stephen King. And, evidently, the entire Captain Underpants series and Fifty Shades of Grey (which sold over 100 million copies) present a clear and present danger to the Republic. (Dammit, where is that sarcasm font when you need it?)
And lest you think the upsurge in attempted censorship is somehow related to looser modern standards and morals, take a look at some of the classics on the list: Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Jungle.
I was raised to believe that reading was a way to open doors to new ideas and different points of view. I was taught that part of the value of those things was an increased ability to understand and empathize with those with whom I have significant differences; that such skills were useful in maintaining and enhancing peaceful relationships.
So isn’t it logical that suppression of offensive ideas could bring them to back, stronger than ever? Or, perhaps if an individual finds a certain book offensive she could choose not to read or recommend it. Aren’t those decisions adults can make for themselves and for the children in their lives?
What do you think about banned books? Do you have a favorite? Please use the ‘comments’ to share.