Saturday, September 29, 2007

Banned Books Ahoy: Treasure your freedom to read!

Banned Books Week begins TODAY (9/29 to 10/6)!

So what? What's the big deal? Why am I excited about this?
For one thing we'll be celebrating it on the blog this week.

What is it?

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event which reminds U.S. citizens not to take our precious democratic freedom, or the First Amendment of the Constitution, for granted. BBW has been observed since 1982 and celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion is considered unorthodox or unpopular. This week stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.Not all the books have been "banned" but books celebrated during the annual celebration are those books which have been challenged. A challenged book is one that someone in a community has asked a library (school, public or academic) or a book seller to remove from availability to the public because the individual has a problem with the book's content.

So the "big deal" is the celebration of our freedom of speech and our democracy.

As written by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, (Nieman Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20):

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

So why is it important to me?

As a librarian, this is one of those core values they teach us in library school. The buzz word is "intellectual freedom." The idea is when you work in a library you attempt to balance a collection so books are available to the public from a full range of viewpoints. This leaves the choice up to the reader and not the librarian.

This is good...and bad. I end up putting things in the collection I find offensive, but I know others have the right to read. Like last week, someone requested "The Pickup Artists Bible." I think it is based on the reality show The PickUp Artist but I'm not sure. I glanced through it but it really annoyed me so I put it down. Fast. If it was up to me, we never would have bought it. But in my role as librarian, I have to set my personal prejudices aside.

Depending on the book, the ick factor might be language or content. For me, the ick factor was sleaze. But hey, not everyone agrees with me so you can now check out a book from my library about how to pick up chicks. ;-)

There are a couple of other things that make this celebration important to me. For one thing, I remember reading so many of the books which are on the list and loving them both as a teen and an adult. Harry Potter, books by Judy Blume, Steinbeck, and more. As teens we passed Judy Blume all around school. Her books got seriously dog-eared as we all read "the good parts."

The other point I think about is my own writing. How would I feel if my writing was challenged or banned from a library? That in itself impassions me to fight for freedom for all readers to read whatever appeals to them, whether I enjoy it or not. They decide for themselves and I decide for myself. I like it that way, and I hope you do too.

For a list of Banned and Challenged books, visit the American Library Association Web page by clicking here:

Top Ten of 21st Century

100 most frequently challenged books 1990-2000

Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

So do you have a favorite "Banned Book?" Do you have an opinion about Banned Books Week? Share you opinions with us as we discuss this important celebration of books, writing, and authors.


  1. How lucky I am to have read 19 of the banned books. And how wonderful to know that I'm teaching several of those books to my current middle school kids. I especially love Lois Lowry's The Giver and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee!

  2. I read the list of challenged books and was surprised to see lots of my favorites-Are you there God? It's me Maragret, A Light in the Attic, Brave New World, the Outsiders, Flowers for Algernon and James and the Giant Peach to name a few.

  3. What amazed me is you find books there you didn't think would be there. Like the Bible.

    Sometimes the reason for the challenge mystifies me too. Usually it is for language or sex. I don't remember seeing a lot of challenges because something is too violent. I think that is pretty interesting.

  4. A book about how to pick up chicks might be required reading for some villains of romance authors... *heh*

    Jody W.

  5. Great job, Francesca!

  6. Wow, some of these shocked me...I am of course a Harry Potter junkie, but I also remember being really touched by Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes back in junior high. And banning Roald Dahl?? Come on! The Witches is one of my favorite books EVER:-)