Banned Books Week: Challenging censorship
I’m always confused by people banning books while protesting their freedom of speech on social media. I hear the excuse that it’s about protecting children. (I wholeheartedly agree children need to be protected, so don’t come at me.) Restricting a book, where the original words and structure remain unchanging while letting kids free-range social apps for social clout is contradictory. Every online presence alters by the minute as companies create algorithms to funnel more content to the user, while a book’s content expands through thought, imagination, and discussion.
As people want to limit the ideas that books present (mainly regarding marginalized groups like LGBTQIA-plus, Black and indigenous people), banning books also threatens teachers and librarians. Teachers and librarians are not there to spread their agenda. I have friends and family that are in both careers. Every conversation with them turns to the concern and care of the young people surrounding them. I also know these people welcome discussions from community members, not arguments or threats.
According to the American Library Association, 11,300 books were challenged from the inception of Banned Book Week in 1982 to 2015. But in 2022 alone, over 1,200 books have been challenged, doubling the number from the previous year. These banned and challenged books aren’t just dusty old novels protested by someone’s great-grandparents.
A challenged book is when a group or individual attempts to remove or restrict materials, while a banned book is actually removed.
Don’t think that the Adirondacks have escaped scrutiny. Theodore Dreiser wrote his 1925 classic “An American Tragedy” based on the 1906 murder case of Chester Gillette. (Gillette lured his pregnant girlfriend Grace Brown to Big Moose Lake, where she drowned. Gillette was later tried and convicted for her murder.) Dreiser’s book was banned in Boston in 1927 when it apparently presented a danger to the “morals of youth.” In 1933, Nazi Germany burned this same book for its theme of “low love affairs.”
Banning books further promotes hate crimes, injustice, gender fear, and racial inequality by hiding what makes someone uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Without the ability to discuss grave issues or new ideas, we aren’t protecting children but creating more division.
My family reads for entertainment as much as for conversation. Reading has always been something that is shared and discussed. We recommend books to each other and accept that we will occasionally enjoy each other’s choices. This year’s challenged book list has a theme, “Let Freedom Read.” The top ten books deal with sex education, LGBTQIA-plus characters, language and teen suicide. By all means, monitor what your children read, but have conversations to inform and educate, not to hate and exclude others. Banned Book Week is Oct. 1-7, so celebrate freedom by reading a few banned books. There are more significant dangers out there than books.