This past week was the highly anticipated Banned Books Week. The celebration took place on Sept. 27 to Oct. 3. The theme for this year’s event was “Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read!”
Banned Books Week first began in 1982 as a response to an increase in censorship, specifically in libraries and schools. Library activist Judith Krug founded the event to bring attention to banned books. Banned Book Week exists as a celebration to highlight books that have otherwise been banned or challenged for their content. The content books can be banned for ranges from many different topics. The most prevalent topics that typically cause books to be banned are “sexually explicit content,” “racist content,” “LGBTQIA+ content” and “political viewpoints.” These are just a few of the reasons why a book could be banned or challenged.
According to the official Banned Book Week website, the most challenged book of 2019 was “George” by Alex Gino. The reason, as cited by the website, is that the book contains “LGBTQIA+ content” and “conflicting traditional family structure.” Of the 10 books on the list of most challenged books of 2019, eight of the books are banned due to containing LGBTQIA+ content. The remaining two were challenged due to “witchcraft” and “sexually explicit content.”
The vast majority of books that have been challenged or banned are books that are considered classics. For example, Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was censored when it was published in 1891; the scenes that depicted any “immoral” content were edited to the point where the passages no longer had the same meaning. The immoral content in question was the homoeroticism found in the text. One hundred and thirty years after the original publication, the novel was finally published in its entirety. A century went by before the original text was widely released to the general public.
Other examples of classics that have been banned or challenged include: “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger, “Ulysses” (which was burned in multiple countries) by James Joyce, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut and “Go Tell it on the Mountain” by James Baldwin. These are just a few of the books that have faced censorship; the list goes on and on. Name any classic book, and it has probably been banned or challenged at least once. Many booksellers have even faced scrutiny for selling these books. Perhaps the most well-known example of this grotesquely unfair treatment is the bookseller who was arrested in Orem, Utah for selling a copy of “A Clockwork Orange” in 1973. The charges were later dropped, but the bookseller was forced to close his shop.
Books should never be banned. Banning books with sensitive topics takes away the reader’s chance to explore their own opinion on the subjects expressed in the novels; it blocks off an entire thought process. Another major issue with banning books is that some of the topics commonly banned deal with different identities; books that cover these topics are able to give a voice to marginalized groups. Typically, if a book causes a serious discussion, then the author is doing their job; they are making it easier to have these difficult, yet crucial, conversations.
Banned Book Week is just as important now, if not more, as it was when the event was originally founded. Censorship still occurs in this day and age. If you ever have the free time, I suggest checking out a banned book. You never really know what you’ll take away from it.