This week (September 24 to October 1) is Banned Books Week!  Okay, we aren’t really celebrating the actual banning of books.  From the American Library Association:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

You can find out more here:  http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm

To give a bit of background before a book can be banned, it is challenged.  A  challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the subsequent removal of those materials.  Challenges aren’t just one angry person giving their opinion, it is an active attempt to remove the offending item from the school or library (from the public sphere of access).

Banned Books Week is a time we hear authors and librarians and readers stand up and speak out for the protection of books and how access to information is a cornerstone of our society.  I can’t disagree with that.  Books can and have changed the world.  But I also don’t want to demonize those people who are challenging books.  They aren’t monsters or hapless rubes, they’re objecting for a reason, because they feel it is their duty to protect others (children usually).  It doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right (in my opinion) but let me quote part of an LA Times article:

In an essay for the Times in 2008, David L. Ulin wrote:

Banned Books Week offers up the sort of toothless, feel-good spectacle  that makes us less likely to consider the actual ramifications of free  expression. The basic message here is one of astonishment: Why  would anyone ban books when literature is such a positive and ennobling  force? Yet while I agree with that, I also believe that some books truly  are dangerous, and to ignore that is simply disingenuous…

…Yet  it’s foolish, self-defeating even, to pretend that books are innocuous,  that we don’t need to concern ourselves with what they say. If that’s  the case, then it doesn’t really matter if we ban them, because we have  already stripped them of their power.

Books do change things:  Just think of “Common Sense,” which lighted the fuse of the American  Revolution, or “Mein Kampf,” which laid out the blueprint for Hitler’s  Germany.

He goes on to point out that  censorship and free expression to not something  that is clean with as clear lines as we think.  When we think of Banned Books Week, we’re thinking of Huck Finn, Ulysses and Catcher in the Rye but there is so much more and it isn’t always so pretty.  As an example, this year,  Playboy is holding a celebration of banned erotica.  I can think of a few folks back in Missouri who’d really be rather unhappy about that.

You can find the article in full here:  http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/09/happy-banned-books-week.html

Over the past nine years, American libraries were faced with 4,659 challenges.

  • 1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 553 challenges due to “violence”
  • 370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

Perhaps the most interesting banned books case currently going on and some food for thought (and my idea behind this quick post) is P. C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night which was banned at Henderson Junior High in Texas.What is fascinating is that the ENTIRE teen vampire series was banned for sexual content and nudity. Since the series has not been completed, the school district actually banned books that have not yet been published and some that have yet to be written.

How can you ban what hasn’t even been written yet???

Full article here: http://areadersramblings.blogspot.com/2010/09/banned-book-week-house-of-night-series.html

And before you think that’s a fluke, Richelle Mead’s entire series has also been banned.  See here:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-shaffer/the-book-that-was-banned-_b_747194.html

Hopefully we’re not seeing a new and dangerous trend.

About the author

DayAlMohamed Day Al-Mohamed currently serves as a Senior Policy Advisor with the U.S. Depatment of Labor. Prior to that she spent many years as a lobbyist and policy expert both domestically and internationally. After so many much time spent writing for work-related issues, she thought it would be rewarding (and fun) to try writing fiction. She is currently one of the hosts of Unleaded - Fuel for Writers and general "blogs-body."