In the UK, we’re coming towards the end of Banned Books week 2013. (September 22nd to September 28th). This means a wonderful and important celebration of the freedom to read, something that, up until the past couple of years, I’ve never even really considered a privilege. Books, to me, were things that were just there, in bookshops, online, and on library shelves. It’s only really just occurring to me that all around the world, for a myriad of reasons, millions of people don’t have access to any books at all, or exposure to books that they might want to read, books that will grab their interests.
But this post, and this week, is only about one reason, and that is banned books. There are a number of reasons that I think banning books is awful.
When you stop and look at why individuals rally together to get books banned, it’s always because of a factors such as excessive swearing, explicit content, an unprecedented amount of violence, etc, etc. These individuals/organisations very rarely address the heart of the book, the message that the book is trying to convey. Take The Hunger Games, one of the most popular books in the world right now. According to the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom, in 2011, it was the 3rd most challenged and banned book in libraries and schools. Some of the reasons were, of course, the violence, that it was anti-family, things like that. The anti family speculation in particular is ridiculous, because the whole reason that Katniss goes off to fight in the games is because of her loyalty to Prim, her sister. She is so good at surviving in the wilds because of the lessons her father taught her before he died.
As for the violence,it reflects the reality of that world.A world that has created this horrible entertainment ritual, which, throughout the series, Suzanne Collins writes as something that is Not a Good Thing. This approach to challenging books is regularly repeated, when you look at the history of banning books. the approach I mean is to pick very obvious and very controversial factors (e.g, violence, explicit content), without really investigating the context of the said factors, and exploring their meaning. I read a really sweet interview with Rainbow Rowell, authour of Elanor and Park, where this is sort of substantiated
There’s no doubt that banning or challenging books stems from an innocent desire to protect children from ideas that are perceived as corruptible or disturbing. Finding something distressing or disquieting is fine; however, I feel that when someone tries to prevent other people from perceiving the distressing thing, they effectively place their own views, values and perceptions of the world on a higher platform than others. That is, they fail to see that just because something doesn’t agree with them; it doesn’t mean that it will not appeal to someone else. This restricts the amount of reading material available to young people, and limits the information available to them to be able to form their own opinions. I hope, at the very least when books are challenged, that there are representatives from all age groups with different opinions present so that everyone has a voice. I hope these individuals are asking young people how they feel about these books being removed from the curriculum/libraries, and not going in all guns blazing without even considering what they might think.
Furthermore, if a book does have a theme or message than an individual finds disquieting, there is a possibility that that is a good thing. Of course, books are made to entertain readers, but they are also a fundamental platform for exchanging ideas. Reading stories about people different to you has the potential to make people more empathetic, which can only be a good thing. If the reality of someone else’s world is difficult to read about, surely, it can make individuals, at the very least, aware of what other people could be going through.
Of course, I know that the issue of banning books is so much more complex than what I’ve discussed in this blog post, and there’s so much more to discuss. But I am truly grateful that I have the opportunity to read a number of books from a number of different genres, and none have been withheld from me because of someone else’s opinion of it.
Just a quote from one of my favourite books of all time, a book that is still frequently challenged.
Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.
To Kill a Mockingbird
And my fave
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it
To Kill a Mockingbird
- Why Do We Ban Books? (spinningjenni.wordpress.com)
- Banned Books: Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, and A People’s History of the United States (lmulibrary.typepad.com)