Monday, September 27, 2010
During our first ever Bumble Town Chat this past Friday night, one of the bloggers involved (Boliyou) pointed out that this week is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association among other organizations. That doesn't mean that America's libraries go around banning books all week. To the contrary. It is a week to highlight the effect of censorship in the world of words.
Year after year, a select minority become offended by a book they find on their library shelves or on their child's assigned reading list at school. So they challenge the book's appropriateness or worth and ask that it be banned and removed. What this does is to allow a small handful of people to restrict what the rest of the community is able to access. If you want to read it you have to buy it. Not something everyone has the ability to do. This contradiction to the First Amendment boggles my mind every time. Banning books is an act of censorship. Thankfully it often times backfires and brings greater attention to the very work these people were trying to take out of the spotlight completely.
Generally, books that show up on the banned or challenged list each year are books that cover things that are uncomfortable. Books that speak about parts of the past that are not pretty. Books that speak about parts of the present that aren't widely accepted or understood. People challenge books out of fear rather than common sense. While they have every right to disagree with a certain work's message, language or content they do not have the right to keep others from making up their own minds about it.
I do think that selecting a book to meet the best maturity level of students in schools is a challenge. And often it is good to use books to challenge a student's mind about the world, their relationships to others and things beyond our control. If the assigned reading does not fit with your religious or moral beliefs you have every right to work with the school to find alternative selections for your child. You could use the book as an opportunity to discuss your passionate beliefs with your child rather than try and hide them from opposite opinions. But you should not dictate the rights of everyone else in that school.
I am wrapping up a re-read of my favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird. This re-read was a special birthday present to myself. Every year someone challenges this book. This year, a school in Ontario pulled it from their shelves. Banned. For using the N word and portraying black people in a bad light. When I participated in an online book group discussion of this book last year on Goodreads, my eyes were opened. This group consisted primarily of British folk. Time and again members commented that the writing was beautiful but the story just wasn't believable because of all the stereotypical characters. They had not spent a lot of time in their schooling covering America's history in the 1900's and truly found it hard to believe that our nation was REALLY LIKE THIS. Blacks were treated as secondary citizens - and begrudgingly as citizens at all. Slurs were used. They had no rights. They had no chance. But things have changed. Books like this help to show how far we have come - and how much further we still need to go. Rather than using this incredible book to teach lessons of integrity, courage and respect, people want to take it away and sweep it under the rug. Ignorance is not bliss. It leads us right back to the very heart of what To Kill A Mockingbird illustrates so well.
This all gets my blood boiling to be quite honest. It rankled the skin of my fellow bloggers in our group chat and so we decided, in honor of Banned Books Week, that we would select a book from the list and encourage a big group read - to be discussed at the next Bumble Town Chat on Friday, October 22nd at 8:30PM ET. There were, sadly, a lot of amazing books to choose from on this list. But one stood out to us as incredibly ironic - Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. This dystopian book hits a tad too close to home showing what could actually happen to this free world of ours with just a bit of panic. Kind of what our world would be like if all those book challengers gained the power to restrict information, control human behavior and suppress certain sections of society and those who support them - in the name of humanity's survival. Absolutely chilling.
If you have never read this book, now would be a terrific time to do so. It is a book that you will need to discuss upon completion. And we will be doing just that on 10/22. If you have read this book before, you understand why it was selected. And I'm sure you still have lots to say about it. So come back and say it. There is no censorship on The Bumbles Blog.