Banned Books Week and an Anniversary!

Two things: 1. It’s Banned Books Week and I’m sponsoring a giveaway. 2. It’s the fourth anniversary of this blog. It might mean something that I started this blog during banned books week, but probably not. (Don’t go back and read the first post. It’s terrible.) Celebrations will ensue. Sorry-but-not-actually-sorry for the lecture on intellectual freedoms below. Read (or scroll) to the end for info on the super fun contest.

wordsToday (well, yesterday really) marks the start of banned books week, a week sponsored by the American Library Association to celebrate intellectual freedom. Now, I’m hearing growing suspicion that intellectual freedom in the United States is somewhat illusory, given that the information in our country is largely controlled by 6 major corporations (Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. Read more here.), but even given that, American can pretty much think and say what they want. There are some points of legal debate: is hate speech protected? Does a “like” on facebook count as a speech act? At what point is it not ok to disagree with government (that is, at what point does free speech become treason?)? But I’d like to point out that we can ask these questions, and we can point out who owns 90% of our information, and we can make people aware of these problems largely because of the culture of intellectual freedom fostered in our country. I’m speaking specifically of the United States, but I think the same dynamic is present in other nations as well.

Along with these freedoms, though, comes a responsibility. We can use our free speech to shock, degrade, and undermine (think: Miley’s performance at the VMA’s), or we can use it to genuinely try to understand and improve the world around us (think: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jon Stewart, etc., who hold controversial opinions, but who are at least asking good questions). The question of how we use our intellectual freedoms also assumes that, in fact, we are going to use them. Mark Twain says, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” What’s the point in having freedom to read, to think, and to figure things out for ourselves if we are too lazy to do it? Ray Bradbury elucidates, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Let me be clear: I’m not in favor of smut (like Fifty Shades of Gray, a notable book banned or contested this year). But I am in favor of people being able to read or write whatever they want– including smut. If people didn’t read it, people would stop writing it.

If you’re reading this blog, you are already a reader (of this blog at least, right?). I understand I’m preaching to the choir here, but that doesn’t make my point less important. What we read influences how we think, which determines how we act. If we remove reading from this process, we are thinking and acting in ignorance. So this week, celebrate your freedom to read a book and think whatever you want about it. (Readers looking for contest details should start reading from this point.)

On this blog, we’ll be celebrating both Banned Books Week AND four years of Something Worth Reading by hosting a giveaway. Here’s how we’re going to do it. Pop over to the ALA’s website and check out the list of frequently banned books. Choose a book from their banned and challenged classics list, one that you have either read or want to read, and leave a comment about why it’s worth reading. At the end of the week, I’ll choose from comment-ers (multiple submissions ok) and give a (banned) book to the winner.

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6 thoughts on “Banned Books Week and an Anniversary!

  1. My favorite book on that list is brave new world, BUT the one I think influenced me the most is The Jungle. It was amazing to me and I always look back on it when I am eating anything or using anything made in a factory. It made me believe in how important good working conditions are and how it’s a persons right to not only be able to find employment but to be able to not work in a place that’s going to make them Sick or cause them unnecessary danger without compensation.

  2. There’s some irony in the fact that all but two of the books (Lord of the Rings thanks to the movies and The Great Gatsby thanks to the Vlogbrothers) I’ve read from that list were because of school assignments. That was so long ago now that I can’t really recall what happened to say why you should read them…

    I remember Of Mice and Men made me cry (actually I can’t recall if that was for school though, I think I read it in college, but maybe not for a class…) and I think I really liked Animal Farm. Lord of the Flies I never finished even though I wrote a report on it so that might be a good reason to read it. 🙂

    My gut reaction to banned books is to avoid them because obviously they’re being banned for a reason, but I think I will try to overcome my aversion in honor of banned book week and try something new, or maybe old because I really do recall how much I like Animal Farm though I can only vaguely recall that maybe the pigs were communists or something… I wish I’d read this before I was at the main library were I easily could have found probably all of the books listed.

    1. Sure, there’s a reason they’re controversial– but sometimes it’s a stupid, narrow-minded reason, like _To Kill A Mockingbird_ being contested in the South because of its treatment of race relations. I don’t want other people to decide what I’m allowed to read.

  3. Well, Susan. So many banned books, so hard to choose. I have a class coming in to the library in a few weeks to look at our Salman Rushdie materials because the class is studying banned books and they’re reading The Satanic Verses (which I haven’t read). So I dug into the Rushdie papers to find what might be interesting to these students and as I learned about the conflict surrounding that text, I noticed that the primary reason people wanted to ban that book (and kill Rushdie) was due to a misreading of the text. Rushdie was shocked that people were so offended.I think the same thing is true of Harry Potter–there’s really no occultism or Satinism in the books, and in fact they are full to the brim of Christian themes. For other books, like Beloved, well, some things should be offensive. We should be offended by stories about slavery. We should be horrified. We should want to throw the book across the room for making us live intellectually in those conditions. I don’t want a clean and easy version of slavery or its aftermath. I should be shocked by it because it’s good for me to occupy the space of the Other. Books let us be bigger than ourselves and see more than our own, limited perceptions allow. I just read a pedagogy article the other day explaining how cognitive dissonance helps to create new neuropathways in the brain so that new learning can happen, and I think that one of the things that “offensive” books do for us (or the good ones anyway) is to create some cognitive dissonance that allows us to think in new ways.

  4. Wow. I really like Shanna’s comment. Of course, now I feel completely stupid leaving my own, non-articulate comment, but here we go. 🙂 I am surprised by the list. I agree with you wholeheartedly that I don’t want people telling me what to read/think… but on the other hand, I think a lot of the challenges to these books were done by schools and why should we subject our kids to some of these things, if they aren’t ready. I’ll get on my soapbox about parenting now: parents should be award of and involved in what their children are reading. If a child has an assigned book to read in school the parents should have a say in whether their child has to read it. Of course, once a child is able to make informed decisions on their own, I think they should also have a choice. (stepping off the soapbox now) You know me, I’m very sensitive (some might say I’m a prude :)) and I think there are things that I won’t read because of offensive (to me) content. BUT, I recognize the value of being able to make that decision for myself. Banning books is kind of like prohibition, and even a bit like Satan’s plan, if you think about it… we have to make choices and deal with the consequences. As I said, there are books I just won’t read because I feel the consequences will be more detrimental (leaving me void of the spirit) than helpful (building new neuropathways?). But again, the choice should always be my own.

    Whew. There were a handful of books on the list that I have read and really enjoyed. To Kill a Mockingbird was the biggest surprise to me. I didn’t really love the book as I was reading it, but once I finished and thought about it for a couple days. I really felt like I was a better person for having read it. I can’t give you specific reasons for this, just that I was moved and driven to improve myself and the world around me. No book that can make someone feel like that should ever be banned.

  5. I was surprised how many of the books on the list I had read (and I feel a little bit like I have a future reading list). I do see why some people would want to choose not to read many of these books because a lot of them are uncomfortable, or maybe they glorify a way of life that doesn’t agree with the way they are choosing to live their own lives – but none of them should be banned. I’m not a great thinker or philosopher, but I do think that the same freedoms that protect these books are the ones that are allowing the “banners” to live their lives the way they want to. And if they don’t want to? Fine. They are allowed to do that too.

    I think Beloved was the one I read most recently. I listened to it actually, and Toni Morrison read it herself. It was so powerful. Many times I sat in my car outside of my house so I could finish the chapter.

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