Do you remember Forever by Judy Blume? If you’re a woman of a certain age, you probably had a dog-eared copy passed from friend to friend,and the spine was probably bent so it opened up to a few key scenes. It’s safe to say that, for some of us, this popular young adult novel was our first window into adult relationships and sexuality. And,unsurprisingly, there were(and still are) plenty of people trying to keep it out of our hands. Even today—thirty-five years after Forever was first published—it is still being challenged. It was the 16th most challenged book in the United States between 2000-2009.
I got to spend last week observing Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our right to read freely. As a librarian, Banned Books Week is very near and dear to my heart. Though I’ve never faced a book challenge during my career in libraries, they are common, and they happen in all areas of the United States.
Four hundred sixty books were challenged last year. Many challenges take place in schools, and begin when a parent or community member is offended by an item that is present in a school library’s collection or a book that is assigned as part of the school’s curriculum. The most challenged books in 2009 include several classics that many of us read as young adults (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye,and The Chocolate War), as well as popular recent titles (Twilight,The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Lauren Myracle’s ttyl series).Many of these books were challenged because of their honest portrayal of topics that are controversial, or because of their sexual content.
In an ideal world where funding is abundant, public libraries should be equal opportunity offenders. There are plenty of materials in my local library that offend me because of their politics, the amount of violence they contain, or the messages they send to women and girls.There are materials in my local library that others might find offensive, but that I find perfectly acceptable.
It is essential that we all understand that there are differences inwhat people choose to read, and that we respect those differences. As romance readers, we’re often subjected to the judgment of others regarding our choice of reading material. I’m sure we’ve all heard people call the books we enjoy “porn for women” or “bodice rippers,”and we’ve seen people turn up their noses and make assumptions about our intelligence levels, our sex lives, and our relationships based on what we read. We are lucky to have the freedom to read as we choose,and it is vital that we preserve this freedom to read for people of all ages. I encourage all of you to do what you can to fight censorship in our schools and our communities, and to celebrate our freedom to read in whatever way you see fit. If you’re interested in learning more about Banned Books Week, visit the official web site.
– Nanette Donohue