Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

Banned Books Week began yesterday in the United States. The American Library Association shines a spotlight on challenged books for one week every September. It’s important for us to pause and consider which books have been challenged and the reasons for those challenges.

My sister holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and was a school media specialist for 30 years. Therefore, I’ve had a front row seat to the book challenges she faced during her tenure in middle and high schools. I know her stance against banning books and, now that I’m a writer, I have a clearer view of how I feel about the topic.

Censorship is a dangerous weapon against a free society. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or shouldn’t read – or more importantly – what I can and cannot read.

What Banned Books Week isn’t

Age appropriateness is one thing, but that’s not what Banned Books Week is about. It’s about various segments of the population thinking they have the right to dictate what the rest of us can and cannot read.

 My April 26, 2021 blog post, Censorship and Reader Sensitivities, relates to today’s topic.

This year’s theme

The theme for this year’s Banned Book Week in the United States is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” What a great theme!

American Library Association’s Theme Announcement for 2021 Banned Books Week

In the above article, Betsy Gomez wrote: “With a central image showing two hands sharing a book, the 2021 theme is intended to be inclusive and emphasizes the ways in which books and information bring people together, help individuals see themselves in the stories of others, and aid the development of empathy and understanding for people from other backgrounds.”

The following books were the most often challenged books this year as of April, including the reasons they were challenged, according to BannedBooksWeek.org:

  1. “George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.”

Bringing this right up to two weeks ago

Just a couple of weeks ago there were protests in York, Pennsylvania over a school board’s banned books policy. I believe the policy sets a bad precedent. It’s encouraging that many students and parents protested the policy. Please read the article from the York Daily Record from September 13, 2021: Central York board maintains ban on Black and Hispanic books (ydr.com)

The incident in York, PA begs the question: Do you know what your local school board’s policy is on book challenges/banning?

I went online to see what my local school board’s policy was and didn’t find anything specific about book challenges. Therefore, I believe it falls under the general procedure for any complaints. That protocol is teacher/school personnel, principal, school/parent relations specialist, superintendent, and finally, the board of education.

An interesting dichotomy

There’s an interesting dichotomy about challenging books: Making the list is probably the best free publicity a book can receive. Just tell me I shouldn’t do something, and human nature tells me to do it. The same holds true for challenged books. Just tell people they shouldn’t read a particular book, and then watch it fly off the bookstore and library shelves!

Since my last blog post

Last week’s online class was about writing in deep point-of-view. This is something I’m working on in my novel-in-progress. This week’s class was very informative. I’ve edited the first chapter in my manuscript and employed deep point-of-view.

I learned last week that white-tail deer like to eat hydrangeas, geraniums, lily-of-the-valley, periwinkle, and green poplar leaves. At least they waited until the end of summer to strip the hydrangeas of their blossoms and leaves!

Until my next blog post

Ready or not, October is coming on Friday. October is National Book Month and National Reading Group Month.

There’s a touch of autumn in the air. I’m already all bundled up even indoors. My fingers are like icicles as I type these words. If you have followed my blog for a while, you know it’s not my favorite season. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it will take extra effort for me to be upbeat in the next five or six months. For my blogger friends in Australia, may I come and visit you for a few months?

Janet

No one is going to tell me what I can’t read!

I recently read a startling article about the government authorities in Turkey ordering the destruction of more than 300,000 books because they contained the name of a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, with whom the leaders of Turkey disagreed.

Turkey maintains that Gulen instigated a failed coup attempt in 2016. He now lives in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. This widespread destruction of books even went so far as to include any book in which the word “Pennsylvania” appeared.

I gasped!

This is Banned Books Week in the United States.

The last week in September is a time set aside for us to give thought to the dangers of the banning and destruction of books. Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to what is at risk if books are censored. The association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom publishes a list of the top 10 books that are challenged each year.

According to the http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10 website, “The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2018.” The site says that 483 books were challenged or banned in 2018.

Examples of banned or challenged books

Here are just a few books that have either been banned or were threatened with censorship since 2009, along with the reasons given on the ALA website:

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple;

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide;

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam”;

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word;

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”);

The Holy Bible
Reasons: religious viewpoint;

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”;

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group;

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit;

Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence;

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit;

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group;

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence; and

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Which book on the list surprised you the most?

I was most surprised to find My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult on the list. I’ve read eight of her novels. My Sister’s Keeper deals with organ donation. Jodi Picoult’s novels make the reader think. The protagonist usually faces a moral dilemma.

I’ve read most of the books on the above list. It’s frightening to see a list like this – to know that someone thought a particular book was so offensive to them that they thought NO ONE should have the opportunity to read it.

It’s human nature to do what one is told not to do. I understand that when a parent or other community member asks for a book to be removed from a middle school or high school library, the fuss usually brings so much attention to the book that the students will go to great lengths to read it.

If you live in a free society, you may read anything you want to read. That is a precious gift your government protects for you, so never take it for granted.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing, blogging, and all forms of social media and went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was unseasonably warm and dry, which doesn’t bode well for the coming “fire season.”

It was great to get away to a place where development is outlawed – to drive for miles and miles and see nothing but mountains and trees. To be in a place that was so quiet you could hear a babbling brook. I’ll blog more about my trip at a later date and share some photos.

Until my next blog post

Do a Google or other search engine search for “banned books.” Select one you’ve never read, and read it. Or reread one you’ve read and try to identify what someone else found offensive about it. Celebrate your right to read!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Bookshop at Water’s End, by Patti Callahan Henry. It’s the book for discussion tonight at Rocky River Readers Book Club. If you’re local, feel free to join us at 7pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 7940 Rocky River Road, Concord, NC.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. After a week of vacation, I need to get back to my writing this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What’s your favorite banned book? Do you remember the first banned book you read? Were you aware that it had been banned on some level, and was that the reason you read it?

Janet