Try to imagine it. You enter a library looking for a new book to mentally devour after that last YA novel left you hungry for another good read. As you enter the library, you see this cardboard cut-out of the words “Banned Books Week” on your right and below it is a basket filled with books. There’s also a sign attached to the basket that reads “the freedom to read what you want is a right”. However, the word “right” is being slightly covered by the word “censored” in bold black letters. You glance inside the basket and realize that you’ve not only read half the books in there but enjoyed them. What would life be like if you weren’t granted the option to freely read any book that you might possibly enjoy? Does it bother you that there are books currently being challenged for their inclusion of profanity, nudity, violence or other themes deemed too explicit for certain age groups?
These questions and more were the main points of discussion during the annual celebration of the right to read known as “Banned Books Week”. During this week, librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and book lovers, through different mediums, gather to show their support of the right to read books and express their ideas on themes in books that might be seen as controversial.
As we come to the end of Banned Books Week, we’re reminded of the importance of this celebratory week. Here at The Young Folks, we’re especially passionate about books and revel in the fact that we’re able to read and share our opinions on them. While a novel is written to take readers on a journey with fictional characters, it’s also written to encourage open-minded discussions on themes that may arise in the book. I can’t begin to imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t read some of the books being currently challenged or banned. I think I was around thirteen when my aunt loaned me I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and it absolutely shattered my heart. After being emotionally scarred by some scenes and angry at others, I started to question the reasons behind the cruelty that was blatantly displayed in Angelou’s autobiography. Why did people feel as though they had the right to treat her the way they did? What has changed since then? What hasn’t? All these questions slowly got answered over the years as I attended book clubs and just indulged fellow booklovers in conversation.
Andrea Thompson, one of TYF’s book writers, also shared her two cents on how important it is to read the books you want despite their themes, especially a certain novel:
When I was a kid, I loved Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time so much I didn’t realize just how complex a vision it presented. All I knew was I loved how the story was told from the perspective of a teenage girl who goes on a quest to not only save her father, but explore a greater universe of beauty and danger. Meg was awkward, smart, often angry and unreasonable, and not conventionally beautiful, and she didn’t have to reform herself in order to triumph over evil. Rather, it is her flaws and her love that save the day, a refreshing change from the way so many stories about girls and women demand likability and niceness at all times. When I grew older, I was surprised to learn that many didn’t appreciate the more complicated ways L’Engle fused science and religion while criticizing the conformity she saw abroad, and more unsettling for some, closer to home. Some even objected to the fact that it was a scifi story about a girl that was also written by a woman, and thus, too different. The fact that this has become a literary classic since it was published in 1962 speaks to how hungry audiences are for material and protagonists deemed unworthy of attention. Just don’t get me started on how inept Hollywood has proven in bringing such a vision to life.
While Banned Books Week is a time to reflect on the freedom to read what you want, let’s not wait on a week to voice our opinions on books that are being challenged or banned. Let’s start a discussion right here. What are your thoughts on banned or challenged books? Do you think books should be censored at all?