Gone With the Wind, The Call of the Wild, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath --All of these books have been hailed as great works of fiction but they also have something else in common - they have been banned from schools and libraries at some point.
But literary rebels can rejoice. Last week marked the 30th annual Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association. In support of the written word’s most censored titles, the ALA, along with libraries and bookstores across the nation, celebrated our freedom to read.
Hailing the value of free and open access to information, Banned Books Week brings together readers of all types in shared support of the freedom to express ideas – even those considered unconventional or unpopular. Launched in 1982 in response to “a sudden rise in the number of challenges to books available in stores, schools and libraries,” Banned Books Week seeks to draw attention to the more than 11,000 book challenges brought through the years. According to the ALA, there were 326 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2011.
The likes of Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter and Atticus Finch, all once condemned, now owe their now epic status to those who fought for the freedom to read.
At one point, even the Merriam Webster and the American Heritage dictionaries have been banned in various schools.
Hundreds of thousands of us have been told to stay away from certain books that some consider too explicit, too fiery, or just too violent. But free people should read freely because books don’t corrupt us. Rather than corrupt us, they are the creations of sometimes brilliant people whose writings guide us through the complexities of life, supply us with information, and help us develop our own moral guideposts.
The Grapes of Wrath, an immediate bestseller when it was published, depicts the poverty and struggles of migrant workers. It was - and is still banned in some places - for obscenity and for the negative light in which the country was painted during the Great Depression.
Nobel Prize Winning-Author Toni Morrison has had her books, Beloved and The Bluest Eye, banned for obscene language and violence.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by children’s book authors Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr. was banned in 2010 by the Texas Board of Education because the author has the same name as an obscure Marxist theorist. No one bothered to check if they were the same person!
But even sedate titles like James and the Magic Peach have been banned from libraries. Surprisingly, so has Anne Frank’s diary. Recently, Frank’s diary from the Holocaust was “pulled from a Virginia school for “sexually explicit and homosexual themes,” according to the ALA.
We like to think times change but this year books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was challenged. Booklist said the first time author “captured adolescent angst, confusion, and joy as Charlie reveals his innermost thoughts while trying to discover who he is and whom he is to become.”
What’s so threatening about that?
Many of the books banned today are young adult series that get kids reading and discuss the struggles of growing up. Freedom of information and access to literature are fundamental to our democracy and when one person tries to keep others from reading a book they find objectionable, they are impinging on others’ freedom - regardless of that person’s age.
We support the American Library Association and their Banned Books Week. To censorship boards and their axes we say: Ban censorship, not books and stay away from our freedom to read what we choose.