Celebrate Banned Books Week!

"Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas." -Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, February 24, 1959 

This week marks the 30th annual celebration of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read. This week, readers across the world take a hard look at the list of books challenged or banned across history, holding firmly to the belief that while individuals may choose what they (or their children, as the case may be) will read, they do not have the right to call for government action to prevent others from reading or viewing said material.

William Brennan, US Supreme Court Justice, said in his ruling on Texas v. Johnson, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." In other words, if you write something no one wants to read about it, your book should theoretically ban itself -- we don't need to do the work for you. And if even just one person wants to read your offensive or disagreeable idea... well, who are we to dictate bad taste?

In reviewing the list of books challenged, burned,* removed from schools and/or libraries, or outright banned in 2010 and 2011 alone (download the PDF of the list here), the list of objections to titles ranges from "it gave my daughter nightmares" (The Hunger Games, challenged in New Hampshire in 2010) to labeling books "pervasively vulgar, obscene and inappropriate (Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which was named one of the best adult books for high school students by SLJ in 2001).

I've read a few of the books on the 2010-2011 list, and I plan to celebrate this week by going back to a much earlier banned book - To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm ashamed to say that I have not read this since middle school.

Personally, I think this is the best part of the attempts to ban books: in attempting to ban a book, all censors do is succeed in calling more attention to it -- which in turns, means more people want to read it. Just look at what happened to Laurie Anderson's Speak last year; calling rape "pornographic" is a good way to piss off a lot of readers, women, teens, and advocates... and an even better way to make Speak's sales sky-rocket.

So what are you reading this week? What books have you read that have been challenged or banned? Are you more interested in a challenged book after it has been challenged?


* It's the 21st century... do we really need to burn things we don't like anymore? Isn't that a little Salem-ish of us? Can't we just de-friend it on Facebook and call it a day?

Thanks to the National Banned Books Week program (download PDF) for the data seen above. Image from www.bannedbooksweek.org.


  1. I literally laughed out loud when I read your aside about defriending books instead of burning them, so thank you for that. And you're absolutely right that banning a book just shines a spotlight on it and makes people want to check it out, when previously it would have most likely gone unnoticed.

  2. Ah - To Kill a Mockingbird - a wonderful book. And, because it's one of these books which can be read on many levels, it's just as good when read later.
    Also, it's not only a littl Salem-ish, it's even more Nazism.

  3. Hurray for Banned Books Week! Well, not hurray for banning books, of course. Hurray for speaking out against banning books! And making the ones the banners don't like all the more popular! I don't have any big plans for the week, other than trying to get my hands on the books from the 2010 top ten list I've never read. Even though it's the same time every year, somehow this week always sneaks up on me. Next Year I'll be better prepared!

    I reread To Kill a Mockingbird last year for the first time in years, and I was so worried it wouldn't be as wonderful as I remembered. (It was, of course.)

    Happy reading!


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