It's Banned Books Week!
This means the booksellers at the Bookloft have been puzzling their way through long lists of books that have been challenged and banned throughout the United States. Some of our very favorites appear on the list, like our old Staff Picks, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.
Sometimes, especially as lovers of all books, it can be hard to tell why a book was challenged to be banned. Often times, the very reason for banning the book is the exact thing the author is trying to warn us against, not encourage.
Take for example The Giver by Lois Lowry, winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal. Some of the most common objections of the book were over infanticide and “sexual awakening”. This classic novel portrays a dystopian society in which one must take pills against sexual feelings so that no natural reproduction takes place becuase every human is assigned a job within the community- one available position is Birthmother. Babies that are born with any problems perceived to be problematic to the society are killed. As is typical of dystopian novels, Lois Lowry presents readers with a society that is obviously getting things wrong. And, in the hopeful end, the main character is able to escape this oppressive society- and save a baby to boot!
At other times, the reason given for banning a given book can seem simply wrong. Ender's Game, for example, was characterized as pornographic- though no sexual scenes whatsoever are written.
Though reasons for banning books may vary, many agree on which books to ban. Some most commonly challenged authors include J.K. Rowling, Judy Blume, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, Aldous Huxley, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, Garth Nix, and Lois Lowry.
If so many esteemed, classic, popular, and beloved writers and their works are the bulk of the books being banned- what does that say about us as a society? How can we believe that something can be simutaneously great and dangerous? Do we believe that what makes something great is that it contains controversial material? Do we simply love what's bad for us (like twinkies)? Or, is our world really split into two groups: those who love these books, and those who want them banned? If so, who are these people- these "book-banners"?
According to the American Library Association (ALA), the people who most often challenge books are parents. So, not surprisingly, the institutions that challenge books most are schools and school libraries. Most children's books do come with age appropriateness recommendations, but parents' understandable and commendable wish to protect their children sometimes turn into a desire to try to ban books that offend them from all children and adults. The ALA (from whence come the above images and information) believes that "this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the 'evil' against which it is leveled... Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or viewing that material." And, indeed, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, once said, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
Want to give some of these banned books a whirl yourself and see what YOU think? Check out the ALA's Top 100 Banned Books List and pick one out for yourself as you think about these questions: Do you agree that this book should be banned? Do you believe that banning books at all is a good idea?