In Preparation for Banned Books Week


The last week in September [this year beginning on 9/24] is always “Banned Books Week.” It’s a time when bookstores, libraries, non-profits, and [hopefully] schools take time to reflect on the problem of censorship through programming and events, and we all get a chance to celebrate our freedom to read.

Book banning is an issue near and dear to my heart for a few reasons. First, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for both the National Coalition Against Censorship in NYC, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression here in Charlottesville. Much of my work centered around censorship issues, and I did quite a few projects at the NCAC with schools that were banning books based on complaints by one parent or area pastor.

Second, I just love to read. When I was younger, it was a Friday night tradition to go out to dinner and then go to Borders [pour one out] or Barnes and Noble with my parents. They would always let me pick out a book, and I would inevitably finish half of it in the car. I am lucky enough to have parents that never restricted my reading choices, and often pushed me to read books that were challenging in reading level or subject matter. I don’t believe I turned out any worse for it, although I’m sure there’s room for debate.

In the NYC office, the NCAC had a library full of books that are commonly censored or banned from schools or libraries. The books were stacked to the ceiling, filled boxes and shelves, and overflowed onto the floor. I remember the first time I walked in there, I was absolutely shocked at some of the books that 12th grade AP students, for example, were forbidden from opening because of “graphic or sexual content” or “swearing.” It made me sick to my stomach. I kept thinking, “What? This one, too?” Here’s just a few:

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

[shouldn’t every little girl read this one?]

Brave New World

Their Eyes Were Watching God

The Chocolate War

In fact, some of my favorite books in the entire world often make this list.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Catch-22

Lolita

As I Lay Dying

The list goes on and on. It’s quite depressing to see what we withhold from students – and often based on one person’s opinion. Here are a few more:

  • Angels in America
  • Harry Potter
  • Slaughterhouse Five
  • The Sledding Hill
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Native Son
  • Lord of the Flies
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Goosebumps Series
  • The Color Purple
  • A Clockwork Orange
But keep in mind, this list is nowhere near exhaustive.

I remember vividly working on letters to high schools that had banned Of Mice and Men and Native Son from their libraries and curricula, and high schools that refused to allow their students to perform Angels in America. I love these books, as do many of my peers, and often I wonder what those who wish to ban them are afraid of. Knowledge? Critical thinking? Dialogue? I’m a firm believer that students need to be exposed to all different viewpoints in order to fully develop their own opinions and ideas. Any censorship of books seriously hinders their ability to take in views that may be different from their community’s or family’s.

That’s why organizations such as the NCAC and the TJ Center are important. And there are many more like them: the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, PEN America Center, American Society of Journalists and Authors, and on and on.

I encourage you to take some time next week to think about a book that you love, and how you would feel if you were denied the right to enjoy it. I might sit down with some Faulkner, just to remember why I love his work and why I’m fortunate to have read it.

These organizations are always looking for volunteers to help spread their messages and end censorship in schools, and I’m sure there are events near your hometown next week.

Happy reading!

Banned Books Week Info

The NCAC: Books Page

The American Booksellers Foundation “FREADOM” List – Take a look, I dare you.

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Author:ryesandshine

Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/

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