"Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
– Margaret Atwood, banned book author of "The Handmaid’s Tale."
Established in 1982 by the late Judith Krug, then director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom, Banned Books Week (September 18-24, 2022) promotes free and open access to ideas and information.
Hardly a week goes by when there is not a news story about a book challenge happening somewhere: "The Bluest Eye," "Maus," "Gender Queer," "The Hate U Give." Frequent targets are fiction and nonfiction about people of color, LGBTQIA+ protagonists, and books dealing with Jewish and Muslim religious/ethnic themes.
Several Arlington Reads authors have been banned book listed: Kiese Laymon, Jacqueline Woodson, Judy Blume, Alison Bechdel, Tim O’Brien. And this year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication in the US of James Joyce’s "Ulysses," the standard bearer for book censorship.
Challenges are on the rise.
According to an article in the Washington Post (March 22, 2022), "School book bans are soaring. Although the vast majority of challenges go unreported, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom counted 330 incidents of book censorship in just the three months from September to November 2021 — marking the highest rate since the association began tracking the issue in 1990.”
And the rhetoric is getting hotter.
Earlier this year, one Oklahoma lawmaker compared librarians to cockroaches. Less comically, we have been called groomers and pedophiles for having LGBTQIA+ books on the shelves. Closer to home, two members of the Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia advocated for burning certain books, and a lawsuit filed against two authors and a book seller in Virginia Beach hopes to prohibit the sale of books deemed obscene. Not great.
Books are transformational.
They challenge our beliefs and biases, expose us to different experiences and cultures. They help us learn to think for ourselves and not follow the group think of public opinion. Yes, they can be dangerous and offensive. And that is how it should be. Indeed, there is a book in every library that offends someone somewhere. And if there isn’t, librarians are not doing their jobs.
How can you help celebrate Banned Books Week?
Here are a couple of ideas:
- Become informed on the topic. These are resources we have found particularly useful: https://pen.org/banned-in-the-usa/ and https://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif.
- Commit to reading at least one challenged book.
- And if you have a child at home, ask your child to commit to reading one, too. The family that reads together, thrives together.
Director, Arlington Public Library