Dear readers and raptors,
Banned Books Week has always been an important event for me. I’m not home at the moment, but when I am, walking into my local library at this time of year means that my eyes are always drawn to the posters featuring the covers of banned books, or quotes that condemn censorship.
It makes me happy. And weirdly, for someone who is not usually patriotic, it makes me glad to live in the United States because I appreciate the ability to use controversial books as conversation-starters. I will freely admit that I have some strong feelings about banning/challenging books. Generally, I am a levelheaded and calm person, but there are a few things that make me angry on a very basic level, and censorship is one of them. It is something that gets under my skin and prods me until I feel the urge to go for a long walk or punch a pillow for an hour or so.
I suppose someone could argue that I need to straighten out my priorities—what with people starving and the rainforests being decimated, how can I possibly think about books? Books are hardly a matter of life and death…well, at least, not to a young American woman who grew up in a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle.
Fine, you can argue that. I might even agree. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry about censorship. I have an intimate relationship with books—I’ve been reading them since the age of five. They have taught me and bored me and helped me and angered me and consoled me and amused me and, above all, fascinated me for nearly two decades, and that is something to which I can relate. There are plenty of crusades and causes to choose from in this world; I have simply chosen one I feel strongly about. Passionate people make a difference, and I am choosing a place where I can be most passionate so that I can make a difference.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in a place where the ideals of the community mean that it is very unlikely that a book will ever be seriously challenged there. Nevertheless, it upsets me when I read a story about a novel that was banned from a school library by administrators, or a public library that is forced to shelve “inappropriate” books in a back room, away from the “sensitive” eyes of patrons (usually, this means kids and teens). I don’t live in these places, so how can I do my part to maintain the intellectual freedom of the American public? I am not a fighter by nature. I’m not the type to drive to a faraway town to protest with signs and chants, and I’m not the type to write letters to school administrators and board members. So what will I do?
I will ask people to read banned and challenged books. And without further ado, here are this week’s links:
1. First of all, the official page for Banned Books Week. A great resource if you have any general questions about the project.
2. A list of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century (compiled by the American Library Association, which is also the driving power behind Banned Books Week in the US). I think it’s interesting (but unsurprising) to note that the vast majority of them are MG/YA fiction or books that are commonly taught in schools.
3. I know I’ve posted this once before, but I can’t help wanting to share the amazing and inspiring story of a teenager who is quietly disobeying her school’s rules and running a library of banned books out of her school locker. If I could, I would send her as many books as I could afford.
4. If you click on one link from this blog post, please let it be this one. In a letter to an irate patron, a librarian responds—with wonderful respect, understanding, and courtesy—to her challenge of a children’s book called Uncle Bobby’s Wedding. It is the most thoughtful, kind, and generally wonderful response I have ever seen in a situation like this.
5. YA author Sherman Alexie (whose book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was my favorite read this summer) responds to the Wall Street Journal’s article on dark material in YA books. While I am fortunate not to have had any of the experiences Alexie describes, I wholeheartedly agree with him. (If you haven’t read my thoughts on the matter, you can find them here.)
6.Again, I know I have posted this before, but it’s too relevant to leave out. John Green shares his thoughts on the proposed censorship of his book Looking for Alaska:
7. Finally, part of the Banned Books Week project includes a new facet called the Virtual Read-Out, where people record videos of themselves reading excerpts from banned books and then share them on YouTube. Makes me happy.
I’d like to end with a request. Or perhaps it’s a challenge, or a plea, or an admonishment. However you want to think of it: consider reading a Banned Book this week. I myself will be going to the library tomorrow (or possibly Wednesday) to pick out a book to read, and I invite you all to join me. I know we all live busy lives, but I think most of us can find an hour (or even 30 minutes) or so per day to read. If you need ideas, check out that list of books in link #2, or take a look at the Wikipedia list of challenged books.
So read a banned book–heck, read two of three if you can manage it–and leave me a comment saying which book you’re reading (or plan to read). For myself, I’m considering the following:
1. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
3. ttyl, by Lauren Myracle
4. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
5. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Thoughts? Any other recommendations? Leave a comment and let me know!