I didn’t know there was a specific week to celebrate banned books until my local library posted about it on social media. I think it’s marvelous.
Until I was a senior in high school, I thought banning books was something that happened in other countries. Less developed countries. Less democratic countries. Not the United States. Where I lived, even when the local helicopter moms got hot and bothered about Harry Potter books, the rest of the PTA rolled their eyes and out-voted them.
But when I was in twelfth grade, I took a Southern Literature class. My teacher, who was amazing, gave us an unusual assignment. She passed out a list of the most often banned and challenged books in America and made us choose one to read and report back to the class. I had heard of all the books on the list, and had already read several, but had not realized that they weren’t carried in our school library. Our local public library had most of them. I went to the local bookstore and, as was my habit, spent a lot of time examining the book flaps and blurbs of the ones I had narrowed it down to before choosing one. I probably would have bought more, but back then my book budget was even smaller than it is now.
Part of our report had to include why the book had ever been challenged and then we had to discuss whether we agreed with the censorship of it or not. One by one, each of us vehemently disagreed with the banning of the books, regardless of whether or not it portrayed ideals different from our own. Because banning a book doesn’t change the fact that someone thinks or feels that way. And if we aren’t willing to even read a book written by someone who thinks differently than we do, then we are confining ourselves to a very small worldview.
I sometimes wonder if everyone in my class back then would still agree with that sentiment today. I hope so.
So let’s all celebrate Banned Books Week and read something controversial. Something rebellious. Something contradictory to our views or opinions.
I am reminded of a quote that is often wrongly attributed to Voltaire, but is actually from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (writing as S. G. Tallentyre) and meant to describe Voltaire’s attitude. It seems a fitting end to this post, so I’ll leave you with these words. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”