September 30-October 6 is National Banned Books Week. And although it may seem like a ruse by English teachers to force students into reading “old” or “classic” books that appear to have surpassed their societal relevance, it most definitely is more than that. This week is about celebrating the freedom to read and drawing attention to the problem of censorship.
Banned (or challenged) books are books that have come under controversy for their content. Someone somewhere did not approve of the story line, the symbolism, or the underlying message written on the pages. That person found some friends that agreed with them and essentially, made a stink about it. People have complained to the media, to online forums, to school boards, and curriculum directors that not only should this book not be taught in school, but it should be eliminated from existence.
Any district can remove a book from their curriculum, however, only the official complaints to the American Library Association or articles from newspapers determine if a book should be put on the “banned book” list. Books are only put on the list after they’ve received so many complaints (more info on how the list is tabulated). But its listing doesn’t make the book, reading book, possession of the book, or the teaching of the book illegal. The banned book list is artificial. It doesn’t mean much. In fact, there isn’t even one list.
The American Library Association has several types of lists available depending on years, race of the author, book title, and more. One list is a PDF of Books Banned or Challenged in 2010-2011 that includes such books as The Hunger Games, Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank), and The Koran with explanations of who challenged them and for what reason. I wasn’t surprised by some of the classics, but definitely by The Hunger Games. Another one of their lists, the Banned and Challenged Classics has many books that most people know to be as the banned book list.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has a PDF list on their website entitled Challenged Books from 2004-2011. It seems they’ve listed nearly every books that has some literary content and worthy of study in an English class. Books such as Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, and Hamlet(yes, Shakespeare!) are listed amongst Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Lovely Bones, and A Christmas Carol.
People will continue to object to books as long as authors continually exercise their right to free speech and freedom of the press. Books that make readers think, reflect, and change their mind on how they view the world will always have to fight against those who want to control the message. How influential are they? The Library of Congress has assembled a list of Banned Books That Shaped America (published on www.bannedbooksweek.org).
Students are always asking, “why do I have to learn this?” or “why do I need to read this?” Sometimes, the questions need to be, “why can’t I read this?” or “how will I change by reading this?”. I’m all for trash novels that keep people reading or motivating them to walk into a bookstore (or whatever method of obtaining books they prefer), but there are books people need to read because that author had something to say. And 50, 100, 400 years later, that message still is important.
So this week, go read some Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, or Mark Twain. You could also read The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), 1984 (George Orwell), Catch-22 (Joseph Heller), The Jungle (Upton Sinclair), A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), or even The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien).
And if you really like one, there is a website, OutofPrintClothing.com where you can buy shirts inspired by classic book covers.
Lastly, dare others to read banned books with website badges and Facebook cover art.
But don’t let me tell you what to read or not to read, go find out what these rebels with a cause wrote about. I triple-dog dare you.