Friday, September 30, 2011

Thoughts on Banned Book Week

The Jersey Shore gets to run on TV, their stars are featured on daytime talk shows in all their GTL and fist-pumping glory, but you, Huckleberry Finn, are far too derogatory for me to tolerate. Banned! “16 and Pregnant” and its spin-offs are splashed across magazine covers in the grocery store line, but, my goodness, The Hunger Games is too sexually explicit to be available at the local library. Lolita, I’m sorry, I can’t allow you to be in the vicinity of my children . . . but, really, who has time to read when “Toddlers and Tiaras” is on?

In an era when the freedom of self-expression is taken to the absolute max, and the freedom to say and write what you think and feel is celebrated to the point of questioning what is and is not toeing the line, we still have to contend with books being banned, contested, and challenging. Because, let’s be honest, Grimm’s Fairy Tales in all its grisly glory really is worse than watching the Casey Anthony trial. Sarcasm aside, why does a week dedicated to drawing attention to banned books around the world still exist? A better question: why does it need to?

Since the inception of Banned Books Week in 1982, an estimated 11,000 books have been challenged in libraries, schools, and bookstores. The week was created with the purpose of celebrating intellectual freedom, and to call attention to authors, writers, and subjects of banned books who face persecution. Reasons why these books were challenged vary from concerned parents worried about mature subject matter, to religious beliefs, to plan dislike. Some people see it as a vote in favor of censorship, and others roll their eyes and proclaim it to be ridiculous. Still others see it as a necessary step to maintain an environment as politically correct as possible. . . . A totally realistic goal, don’t you think?

The idea of banning books is, to me, ridiculous. In today’s world, what children have access to with the a click of a mouse or a remote control is far more frightening than anything Stephen King or George Orwell can create. The witches and werewolves of Twilight and Harry Potter don’t make children think they are going to get a letter to Hogwarts or fall in love with a glittery vampire or even start devil worshipping (if we are going down that path, then just wipe out the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism in high school curriculums). But they do inspire creativity, and a little daydreaming about a mythical and exciting world never hurt anyone. To ban a book is to prevent the spread of ideas. It is bringing a screeching halt to intellectual freedom, and it encourages the persecution of those who write controversial texts. If we are so committed to protecting our liberties, then why are some people so dedicated to stifling the freedom of speech in others? And let’s be honest . . . banning a book isn’t going to stop anyone from reading it. It is forbidden fruit syndrome, and curiosity will win out. It is human nature, after all. I think that open and honest discourse is a far better way of making views and concerns known, and open channels of communication foster the very environment that people are struggling to create by making a fuss over published works.

So, in honor of Banned Book Week, read a book that has been banned in the past, or find one that is currently finding itself under fire. Pick up a copy of The Tales of Tom Sawyer, The Great Gatsby, or The Call of the Wild. Discover the joys and pains of growing up that are found within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, laugh along with Jo in Little Women, and cry with Scarlet in Gone with the Wind. Discover new worlds in Ulysses, and ponder the future in 1984. See what all the fuss is about over the ever popular children’s book Captain Underpants. Read a poem by Shel Silverstein. Take a stand on personal freedoms and expression, and read a book.

The author of this post is Jackie Herder, an intern at David R. Godine, Publisher and a recent graduate of Boston College.

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