Welcome back to another day, and with it, another post!
Today, I want to talk about a subject that interests me greatly: book banning.
Back in my freshman year of college, my writing teacher gave us an assignment to research a topic, write an essay about it, then present it to the class. The topic I had picked was book banning. The main reason was that I always was interested in learning about well-known books being banned, or challenged, and the reasoning behind it.
Then, when I was researching for my post about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I learned more about how it was on book banning lists every year during the 90’s and early 2000’s. Here, my interest peaked and I fell down the rabbit hole again.
The banning and stifling of ideas and discussion that challenges the status quo has been around since… well forever. Look at Galileo, for instance; he was charged as a heretic for believing the Earth revolved around the sun, when it was widely believed that the moon and the sun revolve around Earth.
It’s not surprising that book banning exists… disappointing but not surprising. However, what is believed to be the first major book ban is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as it was banned by the Confederacy on a more national scale.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Comstock laws were put in place that prohibited the mailing of pornographic materials, with a very loose interpretation of pornographic. In 1933, in the case of United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses, the Comstock laws were challenged, and a precedent was set, but it wasn’t until 1957, with Roth vs. The United States that the Comstock laws were overturned.
Readers and writers rejoiced, until Ronald Regan came into office, and encouraged parents to speak out about books they felt weren’t suited for their children. Suddenly, there were around 700-800 book challenges being brought up every year. This is when the American Library Association started Banned Book Week, to bring attention to the books that are being challenged and threatened to be removed from libraries and schools.
For more information on the history of book banning, visit:
Now that you have an idea about the history of book banning, let’s talk about a few fun facts I’ve learned in my research.
First of all, the types of books banned is impacted by what is considered “taboo” or what the culture at large was scared of during the time period. For example, with Scary Stories, the prevalence of satanism and cults during the 80’s and 90’s affected why the book was on these book banning/challenge list. Nowadays, a lot of the books on the lists are LGTBQIA+ focused, or stories with sexual content.
For a list of the most challenged books in recent years, visit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
When I was also going through the Banned and Challenged Books list on the American Library Associations website, they include not just books that have been banned/challenged, but also books that have been burned in public events, including:
-The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (East St. Louis Public Library, 1939)
-Ulysses by James Joyce (the United States in 1918 then Ireland and Canada in 1922, and finally England in 1923)
-The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemmingway (During the Nazi Book Burnings in Germany, 1933)
-The Call of the Wild by Jack London (Also burned by the Nazi’s in 1933)
-The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (in Almagordo NM outside Christ Community Church in 2001, along with his other books)
–Satanic Verses by Saman Rushdie (Burned in West Yorkshire, England in 1989)
For more detailed information on banned/challenged classics, visit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics
I’m not going to sit here and say that parents shouldn’t be involved in their child’s reading habits. In fact, I think it’s great when parents encourage their children’s reading by asking them about the books they’re interested in, or what they’re currently reading. I also understand that parents may want to keep their children from reading certain things until they are older and better able to comprehend the themes of the story. I also want to point out that there are children who are not as lucky and instead of being sheltered from the cruelties of the world, are thrust into it first hand. So even in the cases of parents wanting to shelter their kids, they may prevent their kids from learning to understand the challenges of other people their own age.
However, these regulations specific parents have for their kids shouldn’t affect everybody else in the school. The school board shouldn’t ban books for an entire district just because a few parents might find it inappropriate for their children. With that being said, there are books that may not be appropriate for a certain age group, which is important for librarians and teachers to keep in mind when choosing materials for school. If there’s a book has what may be deemed as inappropriate content, teachers should discuss this with the students before they read.
When I was in high school, we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and before we read the book, we had a discussion beforehand about the language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, mainly the use of the “n-word” and the racism of the characters. However, Huck himself fights against these prejudices, which is seen in his rebellion throughout the entire novel. Huck is the character in the book who goes against the racist ideology present during those times, and showing how and why it’s bad.
If you were to ban books such as this, especially during times like today where the discussion of racism is still important and relevant, then students would not be exposed to these ideas and have the ability to form their own ideas and opinions. One parent’s belief in what is appropriate for their child should not have to impact the rest of the class.
There has been a lot of push back from the American Library Association, the American Booksellers for Free Expression, and many more concerning banned books. As was mentioned earlier, Banned Book Week (typically during the last week of September), highlights books that are currently, or have been in the past, targets for bans. Librarians, publishers, booksellers, journalists, teachers and readers come together to hold events and bring attention to the topic of book banning.
For more information about Banned Book Week and how to get involved, visit: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned
What’s the main take away here?
Just because something scares you, or you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that it needs to be banned, or (in some cases) burned. Exposing yourself to new ideas and different viewpoints is how you grow. By allowing people to dictate what they believe is appropriate or inappropriate for the public at large, stifles discussion and growth.
Don’t let people take away your voice, or the voice of others.
Don’t let people stop you from learning about the world around you, just because they think it’s not “appropriate”.
Thank you for reading, and I will see you tomorrow with a new post!
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Admin. (2019, September 26). Banned & Challenged Classics. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics.
Amy Brady. (2019, March 27). The History (and Present) of Banning Books in America. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from https://lithub.com/the-history-and-present-of-banning-books-in-america//.