Banned Books Week begins tomorrow, as it has every year during the last week of September since its inception in 1982. What is it? Put simply, Banned Books Week is a national celebration of the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.
Why celebrate Banned Books Week?
There are hundreds of challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States every year (a challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness). According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 460 in 2009; the ALA estimates that “for each challenge reported there are as many as four or five that go unreported”. To get an idea of the frequency and breadth of book challenges, take a look at this map of book bans and challenges across the U.S. from 2007-2010. So to answer the question “why celebrate banned books week?” I will quote from the ALA website, since they put it much more eloquently than I could:
Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.
All manner of books have come under fire at various times over the past century, many of which are considered classic works of literature, including John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. You can view a more comprehensive list of banned or challenged classics here, along with a description of where they were challenged, by whom, and for what reason. Alternately, if you prefer perusing data in a visual format, you can view bar graphs of challenges broken down by year, reason, initiator, and institution.
You may be curious as to what books are drawing the ire of censors these days. If so, take a look at this list of the ten most challenged books of 2009, or this list of the top 100 challenged books of the past decade (which includes, ironically enough, Fahrenheit 451, a classic science fiction novel featuring a future society which has made reading a crime and institutionalized the practice of burning books). You may even come across something you’d like to read!
Happy Banned Books Week!