Banned Books Week: Why Do People Try to Ban Books Again?

Part of a previous year's Banned Book Week display . . . made with an old copy of Fanrenhiet 451. For irony. Photo by Anna Tschetter
Part of a previous year’s Banned Book Week display . . . made with an old copy of Fahrenheit 451. For irony. Photo by Anna Tschetter

I love Banned Books Week. I find that every year it comes around, there is always a new population of people who have no idea what it is. They look at our displays in our libraries and bookstores and wonder what it is all about. I’ve even had some teens look at my display one year  and then ask if they could actually check them out.

I think that is the best part of Banned Book Week: it gives you a way to have a conversation with patrons and readers about censorship, the freedom to read, and the nature of ideas.

Every year the American Library Association releases their list of the most frequently banned or challenged books in the United States. For 2013 to 2014 there are a lot of great YA novels on the list. Looking for Alaska (2006 Printz winner), I Hunt Killers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (2008 Best Books for Young Adults), and Eleanor & Park (2014 Printz honor book) all grace the list.

It’s always fascinating to see the reasons why a book has been challenged or removed from a school or library. Personally, some of the reasons the books are challenged are the same reasons I think those books are great. Take the challenge in 2013 for Alexie’s Part-Time Indian: it was challenged because it presented the “crude, obscene, and unfiltered viewpoint of a ninth-grader growing up on the reservation.” That’s what makes the book so funny, accessible, and important to other teenagers! 

Or what’s even more disheartening and frustrating are the people who try to ban books that they seemingly haven’t read. A perennial classic, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (2000 Printz honor book), a groundbreaking work about date rape in high school, has been challenged for being “pornography” numerous times. Anyone who has actually read the book could never say that it’s presenting Melinda’s rape in a positive or titillating light. Anderson has this to say in the Huffington Post, “SPEAK is cautionary tale about the emotional aftermath of rape. It tackles bullying, depression, rape, sexual harassment, and family dysfunction. It teaches children that when bad things happen, they need to speak up, even when it’s hard. It has given hope to tens of thousands of readers since 1999. It is a standard in curriculum across the country.”

I urge you to use this week to have these conversations with your friends, family, and other readers you encounter. Look at the ALA PDF and see what the people trying to ban books are thinking. Then read those books for yourself and allow your mind to be widened and challenged by ideas that may be new to you! And for more coverage about Banned Books Week, make sure you go back and read Traci’s thorough and extensive look at banned comics.

To sum it up here’s a conversation I had with some teens yesterday:

TEEN 1: Hey, what’s a banned book?

ME (trying to contain my librarian glee): It’s a book that some people try to remove from libraries and schools because they don’t like the content.

TEEN 2: Like Catcher in the Rye, wasn’t that banned?

ME: Yeah, some people didn’t like the content or language.

TEEN 2: That’s nothing compared to what we see online all day.

ME: True.

TEEN 1: Well, that’s just stupid.

It is pretty silly, right? Trying to restrict everyone’s access to a book just because you don’t like it? Teens may not always know that there is something in Libraryland called “Banned Books Week” but they know that the reasons behind censoring books don’t make a lot of sense.

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo