Just after my first book was released, it received a scathing review from someone who thought it was a Christian novel, based on the story synopsis. Actually, to be more precise, the scathing review was against me more than the book. After buying the book, the Reviewer discovered I’m gay, and immediately determined the book was horrible. And while the person writing the review admitted they had not read my book, they felt strongly enough to tell everyone not to read it either. (It was in all caps, with the appropriate punctuation, so we know they were serious: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!!!)
Now this was only one person, and it was an online review, but when such opinions become a coordinated effort, with the goal of getting books removed from a local library, or off a recommended reading list, it becomes censorship. And that’s the reason we need Banned Books Week.
Background and Definitions.
Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to an increase in the number of challenges to and attempts to ban books in schools, bookstores and libraries. It's not a celebration of questionable materials, and is not an attempt to suppress personal opinions, parental rights or age-appropriate designations. Designating a book as “not appropriate” for certain age groups is different than seeking to prevent all children from reading it. Banned Books Week brings national attention to the harms of censorship and supports the “freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” (quoted from their website)
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon objections to content by an individual or group. It’s not merely expressing personal (dis)tastes, it’s an effort to prevent everyone’s access to the material.
Studies show the majority of challenges come from parents. If a parent doesn’t want their child to read a book, that’s a family decision, but it’s a different matter when they decide no child should be allowed to read it. (In my opinion, however, if a parent thinks they can prevent their child from reading it, that’s naïve.)
A Banned Book (or materials) has been successfully removed/restricted. It doesn’t mean it's not available, just that it has been banned in a specific location. (i.e., a local library)
Some of the most challenged books in the past two decades have centered on just a few reasons:
Offensive language, including profanity and racial slurs (In a previous post, I’ve talked about the use of profanity.)
Sexual content, including premarital sex, nudity, masturbation, and homosexuality
Religious perspectives, with concerns about witchcraft, the occult, and any perceived contempt for a particular religion
Views of (traditional) marriage and family, such as single mothers or same-sex parents
In essence, the content of a book goes against someone’s (or some group’s) personal beliefs or preferences, so they don’t think anyone should be allowed to read it.
I appreciate when someone warns me that I might not like a movie, or TV show because I’m not a fan of horror, gore or graphic violence. I’m okay with someone encouraging parents to be cautious. However, when I’m told that I cannot read a book because it’s too violent, or contains material that someone felt I should not be allowed to read, then we have a serious problem!
Here’s FOUR reasons I read banned/challenged books, and why I encourage others to do the same:
1. I can always learn something.
The existence of banned books point out the importance of learning how to think over being told what to think. Thinking is good.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading,
you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” (Haruki Murakami)
2. My world gets bigger.
Perhaps it does go against my beliefs, or how I think, or the way I would do something. But my preconceptions and prejudices will never be challenged if they’re not confronted with new ideas. I need a different perspective.
I don't know what it's like to be a black peanut farmer, or a transgender teen, or a homeless man, or an undocumented immigrant, or a Muslim woman. But I can read a book that might give me a better understanding. And perhaps, greater empathy and acceptance. I've been reading banned/challenged books since high school. Some moved me, while others disturbed me. But I was not the same after reading any of them.
3. Rebellion and Protest.
When a book is challenged, or banned, a part of me wants to know WHY. What is so dangerous that I should not be allowed to read it?
Knowing the history, mindset, motives and intent of those who tends to promote banning, I always do what I can to stand up to them! I'll read it...just to make my point.
4. It’s my decision!
Attempts to ban books is a threat to Constitutional freedom of speech for the author. It's also a violation of our right to make our own reading choices. (In a recent post, I covered the issue of imposed censorship by those who don't like something in a book.)
Let’s face it: books are dangerous! They can...and DO...change the world.
Many of the banned or challenged books have influenced entire generations to make changes in their world. Many of the books also became bestsellers. (So please. If you want to start a challenge to ban any of my books, let me know. I’ll gladly cooperate!)
A particular book may not be to my taste, or a subject that interests me, but I'm with the banned!
I oppose censorship.