Banned Books: What are they and Why you Should Care

This week is a special week.

Every September, as the leaves turn colour and the air gets cooler and students start the long-winding road into debt as they purchase more books at the university library – there is one week to celebrate all those books that have been banned.

But what is a banned book and why should you care?

I would usually start with a definition of the term “banned book” but I couldn’t find one that was short and succinct enough for these purposes, so here’s a stab at my own definition: A banned book is a book that has been banned or in some cases outright destroyed, in schools, communities, libraries – by concerned parents, religious officials, and even governments in some cases. The reasons for banning books varies – political messages, sexuality, profanity and anti-religious messages usually top the list in some form or another. The idea behind banning these books is to protect the populace from the ideas in the books, or just to reject the books for what is perceived to be an inherent “wrongness” of the message in the book.

As you may be able to tell from my politics and my love of literature, I think banning books is an act of extreme ignorance and I feel that all the reasons for banning books are bunk.

Basically.

Look guys, I get wanting to protect your kids. I understand wanting to keep standards high for a community. I even understand that compulsion, when you read something so abhorrent to you, to hide that thing so no one else has to face it.

I get all of that.

What I don’t understand is how people make the leap from “I think this is bad” to “No one will ever read this again!”. The idea that you can stop an idea – any idea – by locking it down, shutting it away, burning it – it’s sick, not only because it won’t work, but because it’s bad policy. There is no one in the world that will agree with you on everything. No one. And to think that anyone has the power to deny other people a different point of view – it’s inhumane.

And so, Banned Book Week.

Here’s the information for Banned Book Week if you want it right from the source. Otherwise, here’s my rundown: The American Library Association (ALA) started this week as a way to inform the population and start a discussion on banned books – why they were banned, the political/societal.religious motivations behind the banning, and how we can go forward understanding these motivations, so we can get to a place where we no longer feel like we need to ban any books. It sounds terribly complicate,d but it’s easy at an individual level to just participate.

So, this week I challenge you: pick up a book. Try out a book you’ve never heard of from any of these lists. Give one a chance, see if you like it. Not only because it’s a stand against banned books, either, but because you owe it to yourself to make up your own mind, instead of being told what you can and cannot read. 

It may surprise you which books have been banned, NPR has an interesting article about it. “Normal” books as well as highly charged books have been banned: Childhood classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Charlotte’s Web; highschool mandatory reading like Animal Farm, Ulysses, and The Lottery (now a tv show!); and all those ones that fall in between, books that are meant to be discovered at some point. The books of Harry Potter were banned – for the use of “magic” in a magic world. Plenty of black authors – Toni Morrison would be a huge example, as well as Alice Walker – find their books on the banned list as their work revolves around the often times brutal retellings of female slaves, which shocks the consciousness of readers (as it should). Female sexuality, racial accounts that aren’t The Help, communist sympathizers and points of view that vary from the dominant religious group are the stories that are usually attacked, and that says something about the entire exercise of banning books, I think. 

So, pick up a classic – pick up The Great Gatsby (banned for sexuality), or a new classic like The Hunger Games (sexuality, violence) or Looking for Alaska (drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexuality). Pick up El Jame’s Fifty Shades of Grey series (sexuality) or To Kill a Mockingbird (racism) or even Twilight  (sexuality) – all banned at one time or another for one reason or another. 

And open up your minds to the possibility that banning is not the way to go. And fight it – fight it in the best way possible to fight book bannings, just read them. And tell people you read them, and encourage everyone around you to read them too. 

And when you’re in a good mood – take this quiz, I got a book I had never heard of, and plan to read later this week. 

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