National Banned Book Week began today.
Some of the most frequently banned books in American history include these classics:
· 1984 – George Orwell
· The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
· The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
· The Color Purple – Alice Walker
· The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
· I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
· Lord of the Flies – William Golding
· Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
· One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
· To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of books being challenged in this country. These complaints have called for books to be removed from curricula and from the shelves of school and public libraries.
In a recent press release, the American Library Association (ALA) announced:
Between January 1 and August 31, 2022, ALA documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources, and 1,651 unique titles were targeted. In 2021, ALA reported 729 attempts to censor library resources, targeting 1,597 books, which represented the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling these lists more than 20 years ago.
Additionally, more than 70 percent of the 681 attempts to restrict library resources targeted multiple titles. In the past, the vast majority of challenges to library resources only sought to remove or restrict a single book.
We each enjoy the right to read what we want and not to read what we do not. Banned Book Week is an opportunity to recognize that democratic privilege and to call us to action to protect those rights. On a daily basis, we see news of groups and individuals challenging these fundamental intellectual freedoms, and we must be vigilant.
This summer, I visited The Empty Library. It is a memorial created in 1995 by the Israeli sculptor, Micha Ullman. In the middle of a square in the middle of Humboldt University in Berlin, now known as Bebelplatz, this memorial consists of empty shelves that can be seen through an unmarked sheet of glass on the ground. These shelves represent more than 20,000 books burned by the Nazis on that site on 10 May 1933.
These books were pulled from the University library because of the backgrounds of the authors or because they were critical of aspects of society and history. Sound familiar?
At our campus memorial event for 9/11, I read this passage from Deuteronomy, 4:9:
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son's sons…”
Banned Books Week exists to be sure that we do not forget, that we do not repeat the sins of the past.
I encourage all of us to read books this week (and every week) that have been challenged or are being challenged, so we can better engage in conversations on the precious value of intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.