Yesterday marked the start of Banned Books Week 2021, but since it fell on a Sunday, and I typically don’t post here on the weekends, I felt like today was the next best opportunity to do so. As you may (or may not, no judgment) have probably picked up on at some point, you’ll hear about some group raising concerns over a book and its’ contents, whether justified or out of nowhere, and if they’re persistent enough over it, the book gets banned.
The American Library Association started a joint venture with Amnesty International in 1982, and we now know it as Banned Books Week. This is an initiative to shift the focus from the bestsellers and the other popular books on the market and in libraries to the books that have been challenged by whatever group, or outright banned from libraries, as well as focus on those who’ve experienced some form of persecution for their ideas. The goal is to make books available to those interested in reading them, whether they’re for a school project, research, or any other reason.
This includes books with content considered politically incorrect, extremist, biased, outdated, or otherwise outside the norm. If we’re gonna censor ideas from groups like various far-right organizations, then we can’t be in the business of censoring similar ideas from far-left organizations either.
It ties back to the 5th amendment, and freedom of speech, however reprehensible it may be.
In all fairness, most of the books on the lists of banned books haven’t been outright banned per se. Various groups challenged their availability in libraries or in schools for various reasons, according to a Wikipedia article. Some of them say that the books they’re challenging aren’t appropriate for the intended age group, based on their own criteria for what counts as appropriate for specified age groups. For example, some groups have deemed the Twilight saga (or trainwreck) inappropriate for the intended age group, and to be fair to them, I’d have to agree. Horrible writing aside, the questionable (at best) dynamics between the two main characters, and the implications that go with it are definitely not for kids.
Other groups challenge books based on outdated ideas, like stereotypes about certain groups of people, attitudes and prejudices against groups of people, and rightfully so. Example? Gone with the Wind, for the slurs about race. This book came out in the 1930s, when many held some really hurtful worldviews toward people of certain ethnicities and demographics. However, not everyone thought like the characters in the book, both during the time of its’ publication, and during the time it takes place.
Same with Little Black Slur Word. Enough said there.
Another example is the Skippyjon Jones books for kids. These books are more recent, and they use stereotypes of certain racial and ethnic groups. There’s really no excuse for this anymore. If the author genuinely wasn’t aware that these were stereotypes, their editorial team should have.
Some of the books in the Wikipedia article include those written by authors from underrepresented and minority ethnicities. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Kite Runner, The Hate U Give, Their Eyes were Watching God, Persepolis, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry are all listed. With the exception of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, none of these are really meant for kids, and the authors don’t claim them as such.
The list includes books from political extremists like Hitler himself, for obvious reasons.
Books from authors and creators with histories involving consent violations (and worse!) have also made the list, and for this reason. I won’t be listing them, or the authors themselves, but they’re in the article linked above if you’re still curious.
Before the allegations involving one of those authors made the news, I actually bought a copy of one of their works, and gifted it to a place I volunteered at back in college. I sorely regret doing so now.
Some of the books listed are there for basically no good reason at all. Others are totally justified, and for the books that fall into the latter camp, I’m of the opinion that these works should be made available to the general public, if for no other reason than to show that these works existed, and like Whoopi Goldberg said in the Looney Tunes disclaimer, destroying them is the same as saying they never existed, and this is a part of history we need to own up to.
Going off of that, destroying these works is also censorship, even if they involve crappy worldviews, and it goes against what Banned Books Week is all about.
Over to you, readers. Have you read any of the commonly challenged and banned books? If so, which ones? Did you like ’em? Yes/no/maybe? Either way, sound off below and let’s talk. I’d love to hear all about it!