Sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and others, Banned Books Week highlights the value of free and open access to information, free speech and modern literature. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says that Congress will pass no law abridging freedom of the press, speech, religion, assembly or ability to petition the government. However, all over the country, organizations try to ban the purchase of or access to certain books. This year’s event, which takes place from September 22—28, promotes awareness on these attempts at censorship of modern literature.
Why Banned Books Week?
For decades, public schools, universities, public libraries, state and local governments, school boards, parents and bookstores have tried to ban and censor books. According to the Banned Books Week website: “Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982.”
Public personalities are weighing in on Banned Books Week. Bill Moyers of the Moyers & Company commentary and interview show on public television has produced a video essay on the importance of free speech. In the video, posted by Nanette Perez on the Banned Books Week website in “Bill Moyers calls out book censorship,” Moyers declares, “Censorship is the enemy of truth, even more than a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us from knowing the difference.”
What books are censored and why?
2012 was the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles the Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books each year. Yet more and more books are being challenged. According to OIF, 464 books were challenged in 2012, up from 326 in 2011. Last year’s top 10 most challenged books were:
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
- Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
- And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green
- Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
- The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The top reasons for banning a book are because the book:
- is sexually explicit
- shows or counters a religious viewpoint
- contains offensive language
- shows racism and ethnic superiority
- contains violence
- shows anti-government attitudes
- contains mentions of suicide
- is considered unsuited for the age of the intended reader
How can you celebrate Banned Books Week?
Read a banned book! Questia is celebrating by highlighting 15 of the most famous books to have ever been banned. And we’re opening them up to read for FREE for a whole month! Some of the awesome titles include:
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London
- Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger
- Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin
- Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
Also check out Banned Books Week’s YouTube channel. Bill Moyers, Stephen Chbosky, Sara Paretsky, Carmen Tafolla, Whoopi Goldberg and ordinary people offer commentary, explain the need for free expression and exchange of ideas, read passages from banned books and recommend banned books you can read.
Many organizations sponsor Banned Books Week, including American Booksellers Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Coalition Against Censorship and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress is endorsing the event.
Book banning in American universities
Banning books happens all the time worldwide, as well as in American universities. Courses that promote the types of ideas honored by Banned Books Week are also under attack. According to Phil Morehart in “A Year in the Life of Librotraficante” in American Libraries, May 2013: “Filed by Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick in early March , Texas Senate Bill 1128 (along with a House companion bill filed by Texas District 98 Rep. Giovanni Capriglione) seeks to disqualify ethnic studies courses from eligibility as core history requirements for graduation from Texas universities. If the bill is enacted, only US and Texas history courses will be allowed to fulfill such requirements.” Librotraficante (“book smuggler” in Spanish) leader Tony Diaz remarked: “In a global economy, why would anyone want to build a border wall around history courses?”
Do you believe that government entities should be permitted to ban a controversial book if they see fit? Let us know below!
For your research on American and world literature, check out Questia’s extensive literature section… where nothing is banned!