"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

It must be late September; articles and posts about Banned Books Week are starting to pop up.  Now if you know me or have followed my blog for even a little while, you know that I’m a voracious reader.  You also know that I have a slight leaning towards freedom and against earthly authority.  Therefore you might think that I’d be an eager participant in Banned Books Week, making a sign and heading down to my public library to celebrate the triumph over censorship.

Well guess again.  I dislike Banned Books Week.  I find the idea silly, vapid, and dishonest.  Let me count the reasons.

First of all, the title is false advertising.  The week centers around a list that the ALA publishes each year of the most frequently “challenged” books.  In this case, challenges are when anyone demands that a particular book either not be required reading in the classroom, or not be in a school library, or not be in a public library.  In other words, none of the books in question are actually in any danger of being banned.  Even in the rare instance where someone gets a book removed from a school or library, anyone can easily purchase that same book at the nearest bookstore.  If the nearest bookstore is too far away, amazon.com is as close as your computer.  So there are no banned books in any way associated with Banned Books Week.

My second reason for disliking Banned Books Week is that it’s really just a publicity campaign for successful, popular books from major publishers.  ALA creates its list by counting the books that get the most challenges.  Obviously, a book can only get a large number of challenges if it’s on the shelves in a great many places.  In that way, Banned Books Week only serves to create hype for books that are already extremely popular.  Too popular, in some cases, since many of these books aren’t very good.  (Twilight is on the list, for instance.)  Meanwhile, better books languish on dusty shelves.

Third, Banned Books Week is inherently biased, and in a really immature way.  To see what I mean, try reading this post on a blog with the charming name of “Insatiable Booksluts”.  The basic gist of the post is that when people challenge books, it’s always because the challengers are racist, sexist, or otherwise -ist, and that by picking up that dangerous copy of Their Eyes were Watching God, we’re somehow sticking it to the white, male, rich, non-drug-using power structure.

I find this attitude absurd. Banned Books Week was created and is run by authorities, so it’s ridiculous to think that you’re sticking it to the man by participating.  I’ve no idea who is really challenging books the most–although this map on the official website suggests that the majority of challengers live in the blue states, while the reddest parts of the nation have few flags–but more importantly I disagree with the larger premise.  The premise behind Banned Books Week is that it’s always wrong for anyone to challenge a book, even if the challenge consists of not wanting their children to be required to read it in class.  But that is not wrong.  It is entirely right that parents and others should want to keep a watchful eye over what their children read, as well as watch or listen to.  It would be bad, borderline neglectful parenting to not do so.  I am entirely a supporter of free speech, which is necessary for the preservation of a free nation, but I am an even stronger supporters of good parenting, which is even more necessary for the preservation of a free nation.  So therefore I challenge you to boldly ignore Banned Books Week, to defiantly not bake muffins for your local library staff, and to heroically stick your thumb in the eye of authority by not reading The Hunger Games.


Comments on: "Banned Books Week, and Why I’m not Celebrating" (3)

  1. I invite you to come leave your viewpoints in the comments of the post that I wrote, so that people who are already discussing the topic can respond to them ^_^

    Our post was one post of two that we’re writing, and the second one focuses on how books aren’t really “banned” at all–something that we did actually also cover in the comments section. We were saving that for actual banned books week. So your ideas are not unappreciated.

    Why wouldn’t picking up that copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God–or The Color Purple or any of the other books that deal with social stigmas–be sticking to the man? You seem to be thinking about this on a financial level, rather than an ideas level. The books are being challenged for content, and I don’t think an institution should be making that content unavailable; what’s suitable for children should be up to the children’s parents to dictate, not decided by “authority” and made inaccessible. If someone tries to make ideas inaccessible because they find them “dangerous” in some way, and we continue to absorb these ideas, that’s going against the very essence of what the challenging party wants.

    And, yes, those of us who are reasonable do recognize that there are other reasons that books are challenged besides the controversial ideas–but where you draw the line? Once a legal precedent has been set, the line becomes easier and easier to re-draw. A legal precedent opens avenues that lawyers wouldn’t have had before to make cases that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered. It may happen slowly, but today’s “Oh, let that challenge stand” can become “Let’s ban that book, there’s a precedent” in time.

    Banned Books Week itself is run by the ALA, which is the American Librarians Association–you know, libraries, those non-profit organizations that are usually starved for staff, resources; I wouldn’t quite call them “the man” or the “authorities” since, especially in times of recession, they’re usually the first ones to lose funding. We’ve been seeing the library squeeze where I live for years now, and it gets progressively worse. As for the bookstores, if bookstores participate to boost sales, does that make it disingenuous? People buy books, and in our capitalist system, this enables writers to write books and publishers to continue to produce books so that we can keep having access to reading materials. I don’t find this to be a bad thing in the slightest–it’s like people who complain about Valentine’s Day being a “made-up” holiday–of course it’s a made-up holiday, and the aim is to get people spending during the post-holiday slump so that our economy stays relatively stable. It’s a good thing.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment and making it polite. When so much of the discourse on the internet consists of juvenile name calling, it’s nice to be reminded that people can disagree and still be civil.

      On the particular issue of which side is the side of authority in this debate, obviously I was being a bit over-the-top in some of what I said. Nonetheless I find it hard to swallow the automatic assumption that the banners are always on the side of authority, while the books are always against it. For example with ‘Their Eyes were Watching God’, I don’t know who’s making the challenges, but my educated guess would be that some come from black people who object to how the black community is portrayed. You’re right in saying that the book shines a realistic light on the issue of domestic violence. However, I can also see why a parent might be worried about a ninth grader reading that book.

      On the issue of setting a precedent, that’s certainly something to consider. The perfect system would balance the needs of parents to monitor what their kids have access to with a proper appreciation of the ideal of freedom in schools.

  2. Here’s a comment I got from a librarian:

    “Libraries don’t ban books. School boards, county boards, city councils do. It’s politics and fear. And many books are challenged but few are banned. There was a serious form a customer had to fill out if they wanted to challenge a book (at the library where I worked). The person had to go on record, name – address – phone number. They also had to state specific reasons. Many refused to do this and withdrew their challenge.”

    I find this interesting. There are a lot of other interesting comments, too ^_^ I’m sure they would love to chat about this with you.

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