It’s Banned Books Week, which is something that I always like to observe. It’s hard not to get behind an event that describes itself as a celebration of “the freedom to read,” since that freedom has been the very foundation upon which I've built my life and career. For those that might not be aware, every year, the ALA registers thousands upon thousands of complaints from across the country, all from people who take objection to the fact that certain books are being taught in school, or made available in libraries, or even that they exist at all.
It’s very important to note that these books are not banned and/or challenged because they are bad books (indeed, there are a great number among them that are considered “classics,” like The Great Gatsby) or because they’re particularly seditious in any way, but because they promote ideas that, according to some, should not be promoted. These range from claims that works are “sexually explicit” or “anti-family” to the delightfully nebulous “unsuitable for age group.” There are always the predictable offenders (like Harry Potter, for example, because of its “satanic themes"), but some of the entries are downright laughable.
For instance, Captain Underpants was the 13th most challenged book in the entire decade of the 00s. Sure, it’s full of crude humor and slapstick violence, but the same could be said about The Canterbury Tales or any of Shakespeare’s comedies.
Banning and challenging is not limited to contemporary fiction. Established literary works such as The Lord of the Rings and Catch-22 have made the list over the years, and, in 2015, coming in at number six was the Bible Itself, the cornerstone of much of Western literature and thought. Many of the authors I enjoy and respect have appeared at least once, including Rowling, Pullman, and Hemingway, just to name a few. Take a look at the list on the ALA website; you might be surprised by some of the entries.
Receiving a ban or challenge seems to me like a mark of honor, of having ‘made it’ as an author. I’m reminded of the famous quote by Churchill:
“You have enemies? Good! It means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
Do yourself a favor and read a banned book, even if it’s not this week.