This is one of those events I keep hoping will outlive its usefulness: Banned Books Week. Unfortunately, it seems to become more important each year, and I first blogged about it in 2010. And while I don’t like to keep repeating myself, according to the American Library Association, in 2014 alone, 311 titles were challenged (as recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom). So I doubt we’ll stop recognizing – I have a hard time saying “celebrating” – Banned Books Week anytime soon.
Each year since I started teaching, I’ve talked to my classes about this event when the calendar hits the last week in September. Few if any of my college freshmen have heard of the effort; many of them are amazed to hear challenges/bans are reality, and when I point out one of the most challenged books of the last decade is Captain Underpants, most of them laugh in disbelief.
This week was disconcerting on several levels. When I put the ALA website on the screen in class with the list of 2014’s top ten challenged titles, one student just shrugged. “I’ve never heard of any of those books anyway.” (To be fair, none of them admitted to having ever read Jane Austen or Stephen King, either). One young lady thought the whole thing was a joke, and another student wanted to clarify that that while he sort of agreed with my concerns, it’s okay to ban a book “if it’s classified, or if it tells people to do something bad or something.” When I asked him who got to make those decisions, he had no answer.
As long as books are challenged, as long as freedom of information is threatened, I’ll keep doing my part to raise awareness. This afternoon, I’ll join the ranks of volunteers at the Dayton Metro Library’s Banned Book Reading. You can watch the live feed of half-hour segments as each of us reads a selection from our favorite challenged/banned book out loud. In the past, I’ve stuck to classics: Brave New World, To Kill a Mockingbird. This year I plan to hit the nonfiction genre with Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
I hope you’ll join us!