Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” – Joseph Alexandrovitch Brodsky

September 26 – October 6, 2009 is Banned Books Week in the United States. To celebrate, the American Library Association is holding reading events at libraries across the country where select banned books will be read aloud. They have also created an interactive map showing every attempt to ban a book in the United States during the period 2007-2009. Click here to check it out. I live in Connecticut, so imagine my surprise when I learned by clicking on the interactive map that the public schools in Manchester, CT briefly banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn from its classrooms due to racially charged language. Books often speak to the age in which they were written, and if we were to eliminate books from libraries that were in some way tainted by the social views of their age, few books would remain.

After checking for lists of banned books, I found the list of banned or challenged books from this year, also published by the American Library Association. This astonishing list shows that books spanning many genres have been susceptible to public challenges. Besides perennially banned classics such as The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bluest Eye, and the Harry Potter series, I also found some history books on the list. In particular, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States was challenged this year as part of the curriculum of North Stafford Virginia High School’s AP United States History class. Although the book was not the primary textbook of the course, the book was challenged as being “un-American, leftist, propaganda.” To balance out the “un-American” and “leftist” aspects of the book, the students were also required to read an article titled, “Howard Zinn’s Disappointing History of the United States.”

The idea of book banning has existed as long as books have been published. Book banning is not only a challenge to the text being banned, but to the very right of all people to read and write about ideas which may not garner the approval of all of society. If we examine American history, reading has been considered a hallmark of our citizenship since the American Revolution. During the early years of the republic, reading allowed citizens to learn about their government and its laws and to help these ideas to spread. Furthermore, reading allowed people to understand different political ideas and to conceive of different definitions of citizenship. This kind of understanding imparted by books, pamphlets and even newspapers allowed people to form educated opinions, even if they opposed those in power. So banning books is not just about robbing a child or adult of a reading experience that might be informative and fun, it’s also a challenge to a basic tenet of our citizenship. By not supporting book banning, we acknowledge the right of everyone to read books such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and to still be able to draw their own conclusions. Interestingly, several United States Presidents have spoken out against book banning and its attempts to quiet the voice of opposition and to deny free speech. In a speech delivered at Dartmouth College on June 14, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.” President Lyndon Johnson also spoke out against book banning by advocating for the positive influence of books on society, “books and ideas are the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”

Happy Banned Books Week!

[Image via thebookladysblog]

1 comment:

  1. I love the ALA poster, "FREADOM." Great choice.