Reading Lists and Banned Books

I am so happy this blog was freshly pressed today. While I eagerly anticipate reading more of the authors’ posts, I have already enjoyed their post about Banned Books Week. This may only be the first or second time this, err, holiday (?) has come to my attention. Now that I have a bead on the ALA list “Frequently Challenged Books of the Twentieth Twenty-First Century,” I plan on adding many of these books to my own to-read and to-borrow lists, as a personal and non-violent protest against censorship. I am also going to personally challenge myself to find the science fiction and fantasy novels included in these lists, if there are any, and to read all of those.

The Booksluts make an interesting argument, that the criteria for banning books appears to be based on revealing the ugliness of humanity. I’ve just been reading an article for one of my classes, about Victorian models of public librarianship, that are based around the ideal of ‘clean,’ moral, instrumental, pedagogical, and self-improving reading (Roberts, L.C. “Disciplining and Disinfecting Working-Class Readers in the Victorian Public Library.” Victorian Literature and Culture. 26.1 (1998), 105-132.) Clearly, the idea that some books should be read, and some books shouldn’t, has been around for centuries (I would bet it has been around as long as people have been reading). Another thing the Victorians and today’s banners-of-books have in common are their beliefs that certain types of people are more impressionable, and have weaker characters, than others, and that exposure to these literary ‘dangers’ will be harmful to them and to society. Indeed, they have tried and are trying still to impose their own beliefs and morals on others, by limiting access to certain information and human expression.

Here are some of the stats reported by ALA about the reasons behind the challenges (which you can find using the ALA link above):

  • 1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 553 challenges due to “violence”
  • 370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

My third self-appointed task for Banned Books Week is to begin investigating why some of these books (likely the ones I also put on my to-read list) have been banned or challenged. The first thing I’m going to do is see if I can get the Banned Books Week Resource Guide at my public library.

Lastly, I’m going to check out the calendar and events for this week, to find out if I can participate in anything local.

The list, then, looks like this:

1. Choose books from the ALA’s 2010 Frequently Challenged Books list to read this year. (And some from other years, if they seem particularly interesting, or are already on my to-read list).

2. Find any/all science fiction and fantasy books on the “Frequently Challenged Books of the Twentieth Century” list, and read them.

3. Borrow BBWRG at my public library and find out why the books I’ve decided to read have been banned or challenged.

4. Check out calendar and events for ways to participate in this week!

Finally, this article, and Banned Books Week, remind me of another way that librarians and libraries serve their communities: by advocating for and working to ensure free access to information.

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