Another Banned Books Week is upon us, Furious Readers, and while we love celebrating the right to read everyday, this week is a somber reminder that we still have so much more work to do.
I remember the first time I understood the consequences of banned books. I was in high school and Stephen Chbosky’s groundbreaking YA novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, had been banned by my school library. The fear of this book was two-fold: there were rumors that it contained drugs and drinking (::the horror!::) and it had been published by MTV Books, a publisher that also gave us The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian. To the administration, both of these books were a danger to a NJ high school that - to this day - has serious issues with bullying, drugs, and inappropriate teachers within its walls. Like many places that ban books, my high school focused on fear and the unknown in the form of removing choices rather than fix the problems that were right in front of them.
When we were told that our school library would not carry The Perks of Being a Wallflower and teachers threatened to take it away if they saw it out (never mind we openly read Cosmo in class or adult novels like Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters or anything by Stephen King), we, naturally, put ourselves on a quest to find it and read it. It was a difficult task - our town library was very limited and the nearest bookstore was a few towns over. We managed to read Perks, but it was discouraging, difficult, and depressing. I remember thinking that my high school, already a source of oppression for any kind of free thinking, was a place to get away from as quickly as possible.
Today, most of my students have read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and/or have seen the film, but they still struggle with seeing banned books in their lifetime. In fact, the rhetoric and dialogue have gotten worse with books that offer any form of representation being removed for being "inappropriate." As a result, reading has become a chore, something that you need to push against and, in a world where that’s all we do, many people don’t have the bandwidth to rally. We know the political and social implications of banning books, but we must also remember the many ways it breaks the spirit. It's another way of saying, Your stories don't matter. You don't matter. Your choices don't matter.
We must push against this.
Censorship by the numbers, courtesy of ALA.org
Since its launch in 1982, Banned Books Week has become synonymous with making your voice heard against censorship. I am grateful that this conversation is more prominent today and shared widely; however, we still have a long way to go in making sure every reader has a right to read. The theme this year is “Let Freedom Read” and I’m reminded of my teenage self who walked into their school library and was told a choice was made for them. This is happening in even worse ways throughout the country and the world. Reading has a power to free all of us and those who ban books are terrified of this.
To help with your literary activism this week and beyond, we’ve put together helpful resources to get involved this Banned Books Week:
- American Library Association (ALA) official Banned Books Week website
- ALA’s Ways to Get Involved including ways to stay informed, where to organized Banned Books Week reading programs, and webinars that explore censorship history
- Resources from bannedbooksweek.org that span print and digital and cover resources for librarians, students, teachers, and readers
- Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) Banned Books Week Handbooks throughout the years
- Ways to fight censorship and spread awareness about Banned Books Week using Little Free Libraries
- PEN America’s Banned Books Week website featuring Q+A, ways to take action, and articles covering the most banned books of the 2022-2023 school year
Furious Readers, we wish you good fortune on your journey of literary activism. Read often, Read well, Read banned books.