A Few Observations Banned Books Week is a yearly event that occurs during the week of September 21-27. (Yes, it’s happening this week.) This event celebrates the “freedom to read” any book one pleases, including books that have been banned or challenged. According to the American Library Association (which vocally supports Banned Books Week), between the years 2000 and 2009, a good 5,099 books were challenged for the following reasons:
- 1,577 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
- 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language”;
- 989 challenges due to materials deemed “unsuited to age group”;
- 619 challenged due to “violence”;
- 361 challenges due to “homosexuality”;
- 274 materials challenged due to “occult” or “Satanic” themes;
- 291 challenged due to their “religious viewpoint”;
- 119 because they were “anti-family.”
The ALA also presents some interesting statistics in the form of graphs, about what sorts of people and organizations challenge books, as well as their stated concerns. (It seems like most of the people initiating these challenges are parents who are concerned by the books their kids are reading.)
This year’s Banned Books Week is putting particular emphasis on banned comics. Comics are a highly visual medium; “obscene images” such as nudity and pornographic imagery are additional concerns commonly cited in challenged/banned comics, per the Comic Book Defense League.
My Conclusion If you ask me, it’s incredibly stupid to go about reading books simply because they were banned or challenged, especially considering that many of the issues people are flagging in them are far from laughing matters. It’s like flying to Africa in order to contract Ebola, intentionally eating raw eggs and meat to contract salmonella, or drinking stagnant water so as to contract malaria, in order to celebrate and exercise one’s hypothetical freedom to come in contact with and carry whatever bacteria they please. After all, aren’t medical doctors infringing upon this freedom by “challenging” various life-threatening diseases and “banning” them from your body by administering vaccines so that you’re immune to them?
I like having the freedom to read whatever I want, but there’s a presumption that people only want the freedom to read what’s being kept from them. At least for me, having seen the ALA and CBDL’s numerous lists of which titles were banned and why, I am pretty confident that I’m not being “kept from” much.
Personally, I would like the freedom to be able to pick up any book from the juvenile and YA bookshelves at any library or bookstore and not have to do a thorough “background check” with the Literate Mother or Common Sense Media websites to make sure there is no problematic content in the book I’m bringing home to my family, because there would be none whatsoever. I and so many others do not yet have that freedom, and the ideals of Banned Books Week aren’t getting us any closer to achieving it.
Food for Thought So, Banned Books Week is celebrating that people are (or should be) theoretically free to read anything they want, from Captain Underpants to Fifty Shades of Gray. My question to BBW participants is, if you weren’t participating in this event, would you actually read books that you know have been flagged for offensive content?