Looking Back on Banned Books Week

forever 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

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17 Responses to “Looking Back on Banned Books Week”

  1. Mary says:

    Have to say this issue is a big yawn for me. I too am a librarian and every year the ALA has fun pretending that they are saving the world with their “Banned Books” week. In this age of e-books and Amazon, etc, ad infinitum, do any of these bans really work or are they just products of panicked illiterate, uneducated parents trying desperately to keep the dregs of popular culture from contaminating young minds? Its all alot of sturm and drang over nothing. I imagine, back in the day, when more people read and had alot less access to books, these bans actually meant something and librarians could go around pretending they were free speech warriors for daring to have them. Not trying to disparage those people who lost their jobs over this stuff, its just the way ALA goes on and on about it, you’d think it was still thirty years ago or something….

    As a parent and as a teen who herself read “those books” I worry much more about the graphic images my daughter is exposed to through advertising, TV and movies. I would be glad if her first exposure to “artistic” sexuality was “Forever” and not through teen sex movies wherein the best a young girl can do is compete to loose her virginity.

    Speaking of “Forever,” weren’t some of those sex scenes cringe inducing? They even gave his penis a name, if I am remembering correctly. Ugh. (shuddering….)

  2. Mary says:

    Have to say this issue is a big yawn for me. I too am a librarian and every year the ALA has fun pretending that they are saving the world with their “Banned Books” week. In this age of e-books and Amazon, etc, ad infinitum, do any of these bans really work or are they just products of panicked illiterate, uneducated parents trying desperately to keep the dregs of popular culture from contaminating young minds? Its all alot of sturm and drang over nothing. I imagine, back in the day, when more people read and had alot less access to books, these bans actually meant something and librarians could go around pretending they were free speech warriors for daring to have them. Not trying to disparage those people who lost their jobs over this stuff, its just the way ALA goes on and on about it, you’d think it was still thirty years ago or something….

    As a parent and as a teen who herself read “those books” I worry much more about the graphic images my daughter is exposed to through advertising, TV and movies. I would be glad if her first exposure to “artistic” sexuality was “Forever” and not through teen sex movies wherein the best a young girl can do is compete to loose her virginity.

    Speaking of “Forever,” weren’t some of those sex scenes cringe inducing? They even gave his penis a name, if I am remembering correctly. Ugh. (shuddering….)

  3. Carrie says:

    As a mother of five children and home educator, I do have a slightly different take on this. The closest I’ve come to complaining about a book was to ask the managers at Borders and B&N why Pullman’s His Dark Materials books were in the Children’s section and not the Young Adult section, which was much more appropriate. And yes, I’ve read them. I don’t pass judgment on books I haven’t at least attempted to read. Pullman’s books are ones I wouldn’t give my children until high school, and then we talk about the issues brought up in the books.

    and that’s my take on books and children. Since I home school, I pretty much know everything my children are reading. If I have questions about a book or series, either my husband or I read it so we can talk about it with the kids. I do censor books my children read in grammar school and into jr high. In high school I read along if they chose something I’m not comfortable with. We also monitor TV and internet use through jr high as well, gradually giving them more freedom and control over their choices. We’ve used a literature based curriculum so my children have been exposed to many authors and dozens of classic s and Newberry winners. We’ve had plenty of weighty issues to deal with over the years.

    Children need guidance in learning to discern what’s appropriate,and to detect hidden agendas or underlying ideologies in their entertainment choices. That’s a parent’s job. I don’t apologize for sheltering my kids from violence, sex, or other things I deem inappropriate for their ages. I now have three adult children and two minors. The older ones have helped me tweek how I deal with the younger ones, telling me what they felt worked and what didn’t. When my two younger girls wanted to read Twilight, I read it, too. We all decided it was very predictable and poorly written. My 16 yr old didn’t read any further, my 13 yr old read the first three and stopped because she got tired of them. She went back to rereading Harry Potter. ;-)

  4. Ellen AAR says:

    I have to agree with Mary. I work at a university library and teach children’s literature and we get all over Banned Books Week every year. I tell my classes that right now it’s very difficult to BAN a book. Back when Louis XVI banned The Marriage of Figaro – that was it. His word was law and the play could not be found in the kingdom. But now if a school bans Forever, anyone who really wants to read it can buy it at Borders, or Barnes and Noble or Amazon or any other book store.

    Lots of books are challenged, but banning? Not really. Teachers and librarians do face challenges, but out and out banning I would say is VERY rare.

    However there are other items that are effectively banned, most notably some movies. Disney has sat on Song of the South for years and so far has refused to release it since its depiction of former slaves is considered condescending now.

  5. AAR Lynn says:

    If parents set limits on what their children are reading, I figure that is their decision as parents. However, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with getting a book banned from the library, thereby stepping into the territory of what other people might want to read or to allow their children to read. Growing up, I didn’t like it when other people tried to force their beliefs on me and I wouldn’t want to do that to others.

    That being said – this is a true story: Growing up, I knew of some very religious folks who got together and had the Chronicles of Narnia banned at school libraries because they contained magic and were “un-Christian”. The ignorance there just makes my head hurt!

  6. Ellen AAR says:

    I knew a woman who didn’t want her daughter to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis because it had the word Witch in the title. I just shook my head.

    PS, I can’t wait for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie. That’s my favorite Narnia book!

  7. Nana says:

    @EllenAAR – In case you’re curious, I interviewed my DH, whose degree is in book history, about the censorship situation in France under the various Louises, and he says that anything banned under a French king was actually quite often available, particularly near the border with the German states. That border was the world hotbed of print culture and the printers on the German side were constantly working out innovations to allow them to sneak books into France where the market was, or to reduce print costs so if copies got caught it wouldn’t break the printer. His focus was 19th century so he doesn’t remember details but in fact the control was a lot more porous than one might imagine.

  8. Hannah says:

    What is so crucial to me about awareness of banned books is this–the banning often takes place in institutions that are funded by public money. Because of the objections of a certain person or persons, the book is no longer available to anyone who visits that library, and that just doesn’t sit well with me.

  9. Susan/DC says:

    I agree that the strength of a ban today may not be as strong as it was before the Internet. But to assume that everyone has a computer or another device through which s/he can access books is wrong, as is the assumption that if a book is banned a reader can afford to buy his/her own copy. Some people depend on libraries for access to reading material, and a ban has its biggest impact on them.

    Another aspect of the movement to ban books is that sometimes the impact is not direct but comes about when a book isn’t assigned for fear of protest. This self-policing can be just as effective at removing books from class reading lists or library shelves, as Ellen notes for Disney’s “Song of the South”.

  10. LOL about The Chronicles of Narnia. I remember a few parents who wouldn’t let their kids read them. These days you get people who want to ban them because they ARE so Christian. And then there are the people who want to ban that encourager of immorality and Satanism – Harry Potter. Any bets that in say fifty years people will want them banned because of the cunningly hidden Christian messages of self-sacrifice and the rejection of evil??
    And Ellen – we’re waiting the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, too. Although The Magician’s Nephew was my personal favourite, closely followed by The Horse and His Boy and TLTWATW. In fact, it depends a bit on my mood at the time.

  11. Karaa says:

    I feel privileged to live in a country where there are no movements, none — political, “moral,” “grassroot,” “concerned parents,” whatever — to ban literature. It’s simply a non-issue; the US “Banned Books Week” doesn’t even make it to the news over here. Still, year after year, I’m grateful for this reminder (thanks to the internet). Our freedoms are still not free, and never will be, not even in the countries that pride themselves on their “freedoms.” Keeps me vigilant. “Where they burn books, so too will they burn in the end burn human beings.”

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