Did you forget? So did I. According to the ALA, Banned Books Week is all about “the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.” During this week, librarians, teachers, and anyone else who gets involved highlights “the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and . . . draw[s] attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.” You should check with your local library or bookstore to see if they are holding any events, like a “read in” or something, in which you might like to participate.
At the very least, you could read a banned book. If you can’t think of any (or maybe you just don’t know of any), the ALA has provided a list of the top 100 most challenged books of the last decade (2000-2009), the previous decade (1990-1999), and “classics” (whatever that means). The number one challenged/banned classic? The Great Gatsby.
Now, I have to admit that generally I think censorship is stupid. I don’t even like ratings on movies or tv shows, which are really more helpful guides than anything else. However, I certainly don’t want to end up exposed to something pornographic without warning, and I definitely don’t want a child to see something for which he or she is unprepared. Really, I think it’s more our job as adults and thinking people to decide for ourselves what is appropriate and what isn’t, and to be wise consumers of media. I don’t mean to be relativistic here, but different people have different standards of what they can deal with in their media and what they can’t. I have a dear friend who loves books, but has a lot of trouble reading most works of Modernism, or anything suggestive of existentialism or despair, among other things. (This is my categorization of her reading, based on years of knowing her and seeing her react to different texts. She would admit that she is very cautious about what she reads, but I don’t think she’d put it in those terms.) She internalizes things very easily; she has difficulty holding herself apart from the text. Knowing this, I am careful about the books I recommend to her, and she is careful about the book advice she gets. She has her own standards and follows them. My standards (yes, I have them) are different, because I am a different kind of reader. I think people who challenge books or try to get them banned are trying to impose their standards on the general readership, trying to deny the agency and responsibility of others, and, probably in their own minds, are genuinely trying to protect the “innocent” from ideological harm. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, real truth can handle any threat, and threats to truth often illuminate another aspect or deeper understanding of that truth. So I’m not afraid of what I read, and I don’t think you should be either. And I certainly don’t want my reading to be constrained by someone else’s fear.
This week, stand up for yourself as a reader. Enjoy a banned book.