Lessons in Freedom: Responding to Discourse and Highlighting Banned Books
Last month we ran a promotion on social media to make readers aware of MGS Consulting’s new Read Banned Books section and encourage users to download a book journal. The interest was significant and the comments were plentiful. The best part is that, although there were differing views, the conversation was civil. Opposing views are expected and appropriate. The fact that the discourse was generally polite is critically important.
Some of the comments prompted my interest in the history of banned books. People asked specifics about banned books – particularly the how, when, where and why. Those thoughtful questions sent me searching for some answers.
The When + Why
It seems that books were banned as far back as the 1600s and in every century since. Generally, books were banned for religious reasons in the 17th century; to quiet the opinions of pro-abolitionists during the 1800s, and to prevent conversations about sexuality in the 1900s. More specific reasons for banning books include profanity, sexually explicit content, deviance, and content that was just troubling to some people.
Books are banned in both school libraries and in public libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) reports that there were more than 1200 books challenged in 2022. This number was almost double the number in 2021. A book challenge is defined by the ALA as an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.
In a podcast transcription titled “Book Bans and What To Read in May” published by the New York Times on May 5, 2023, it was reported that “there was a sharp rise in book challenges across the United States that are increasingly targeting public libraries where they could affect not just the children’s section but also the books available to everyone in the community.” Of course, it is possible to purchase banned books from a bookstore, but booksellers can ban a title from being sold at their store if they choose.
A more extreme form of censorship is government-supported book burnings like what occurred in Nazi Germany in 1933. And, while it is not likely there will be an uprising of literary bonfires in the 21st century, it not unheard of, as Tennessee politician Jerry Saxton made clear last year.
The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University asserts that book banning is the most widespread form of censorship in the United States. Some view the need to censor certain books as public protection from the unwholesome influence of some topics. Others view book banning as a form of censorship that violates their first amendment rights to free speech.
Without question, a parent has the right to monitor what their children are reading and provide appropriate parameters. As New York Times best -selling author Jodi Picoult stated “There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent deciding a certain book is not right for her child. There is a colossal problem with a parent deciding that, therefore, no child should be allowed to read it.” To date, 20 of her books have been banned from public high schools.
The Choice is Yours, For Now
Book banning is a form of control that is dangerous in a free society. It is not clear to me how books pose a threat. Reading a book does not fundamentally change a person. Rather, it is through turning the pages of a book that I have learned about the world around me. Books expand my lens and offer ideas that are not yet a part of my world view. I want to read about that which is unfamiliar, and I hope to always have the right, free of censorship, to do just that.
The American Library Association has marked October 1-7, 2023, as banned book week. The theme is “Let Freedom Read.” Use this as an opportunity to look for banned book titles and read one or two. Read them cover to cover before forming an opinion.