We read banned books. Do you?

It’s that time of year again–banned books week! Our intern Katie has a little something to say about it.

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It’s Banned Books Week (BBW), and First Amendment fans across the United States are celebrating their right to read To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among many other controversial classics. The American Library Association, which sponsors the annual awareness campaign, provides a list of frequently challenged books on their website. Over the last decade, wary parents and administrators have tried to ban books ranging in literary merit from Beloved to Captain Underpants. Fine, parents, so you don’t want your kids to be scarred by the original Scary Stories illustrations (though ten-year-old me—and, okay, present-day me—wouldn’t have liked those books half as much without the terrifying pictures), but a childhood devoid of The Giver or Bridge to Terabithia? So sad! Besides, isn’t it every parent’s right to decide what’s best for their own child?

I can understand the desire to protect young minds, and I agree that some of the books on the ALA list are questionable at best, but censorship is a slippery slope. David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times wrote a great piece about the dilemma on the occasion of BBW 2008. Perhaps it goes without saying that some of the very best books are the ones that open our minds and challenge our worldviews. “Yet we forget the world is complicated,” writes Ulin, “that it is full of opposing viewpoints and beliefs that, in many cases, we can’t accommodate, at our own peril. What to do, then? Sweep them under the rug? Or face them and consider what we’re up against?” In this, the Information Age, sweeping anything under the rug is such an impossible feat that it makes you wonder why people even bother attempting to ban books anymore—there is always something ten times as incendiary to be found on the Internet. And as Ulin points out, “even the most horrific things have something to teach us, something about human darkness, our capacity to go wrong.”

I don’t know if would-be censors will ever see it that way, but I am happy to live in a country where anyone has the right to attack any book they please and I, in turn, have every right to read the challenged material. That’s the beauty—and the irony—of freedom of speech. You can exercise your own civil liberties in honor of BBW by participating in a virtual read-out or just revisiting your favorite banned or challenged classic. I’m thinking Fahrenheit 451 might be appropriate for the occasion. How will you celebrate your right to read?

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