Banned Books Week 2010

It’s the end of September, cats ‘n’ kittens.  If you’ve been hanging around this corner of the internet for the last few years, or if you’ve heard me rant in meatspace, you know that means we’re coming up on Banned Books Week 2010.

The short version:  some people think they should be able to dictate what other people can and can’t read.   Sometimes they paint it as “protecting the childrenz!” and sometimes it’s simply a case of  “I just don’t like it!”

Any way you squint at it, it’s censorship.

If, someday, I have children, it will be my responsibility as a parent to look at the books they’re reading and decide whether or not I feel the material is appropriate for my own children. Not for anyone else’s.  If little Elsie next door is reading something I don’t dig, that’s none of my goddamned business.  Nor is it for anyone on the school board to tell me what books my children shouldn’t read.  Nor is it the duty of some parent across town, or someone in another state, or anywhere else on the planet.

Yanking books from library shelves so delicate little eyes can’t get to them doesn’t help, it hurts. It keeps children and teens from being exposed to new ideas, to thinking for themselves.  Challenging and banning books suggests that readers aren’t smart enough to think critically, to examine the texts and ask questions, to parse their own reactions to what they’ve read.  It takes away the opportunity for children to discuss the books with their parents or teachers — and let’s not get started on “Well, if they want to read it, they can just buy it!”

Yeah, no.  For some kids, books are a luxury their parents can’t afford.  Libraries provide access to books for everyone, including the kids who can’t just drop ten bucks on a paperback whenever they feel like it.  Restricting access to those books is censorship.

So, what can you do to support the freedom to read?

I’m glad you asked!

  • There’s an excellent list of Banned Books Week events you can attend.  Take a look and see what’s out there — at the top of the list are online events, so you don’t even have to leave your chair!  Although, I highly encourage you to seek out events in your area (listed state-by-state below the online ones), and pop on by.
  • Check out the What You Can Do page at the Banned Books Week site for roughly a hojillion ideas.  The first few items on the list are aimed at booksellers and librarians, but further down you’ll find some excellent resources to help keep you informed.
  • Also check out the stories behind some past bans and challenges at the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Exrpression’s website.
  • Most importantly, read books that have been challenged or banned. (Bonus points if you purchase them from your local independent bookstore!)  Talk about them.  Blog about them.  Tweet about them.  Let your friends on that friendface thing know what you’re reading and invite them to read along with you.  Get the word out.

Two YA books have been challenged in the last couple of weeks:  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, along with Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.  As usual, the challenger completely missed the point of both books, calling the rape scenes in Speak pornographic, and focusing on a party scene in Twenty Boy Summer rather than the fact that the book is about grief and friendship in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Go read Ms. Anderson’s posts on the situation, and Ms. Ockler’s.  (Also, check out the Filthy Books Prize Pack giveaway Sarah Ockler is holding.  Go forth and enter!)  Check out the excellent links in those posts.  Read, read, read.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

Hie thee to your local bookstore or library, or yes, even to your shiny eReader, if you’re not so much for books of the dead tree variety.  Read Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, or Slaughterhouse-Five. Come back here and tell me about it in the comments, or link to your own tweets/blog posts/etc.  Post your thoughts, your favorite passage, why you think those books are important.

At the end of Banned Books Week, I’ll put the names of anyone who’s read them in a Very Fine Hat, and draw one out.  The winner will receive this awesome tote bag from the ALA’s Banned Books Week campaign.

Go forth and read!

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