It is #BannedBooksWeek, also known as the week where every literary enthusiast comes to arms about the fact that certain books are banned for what some might consider ridiculous reasons, all across the world. Today, though, I wanted to talk about the topic, specifically in highlighting the main reasons books are banned, and consider if certain books should be banned.
What Does It Mean For A Book To Be Banned?
Well, by banning a book, it is removed from libraries, schools and/or bookstores. Furthermore, a distinction needs to be made that some books aren’t banned, they are simply challenged. By challenging a book, a person or, more typically a group, has requested that a book be removed from the aforementioned locations, however, it has not happened. For example, the children’s Captain Underpants series by Dan Pilkey has frequently been challenged for “encouraging disruptive behaviour.” On the other hand, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling has been banned in many schools, specifically Christian schools, due to their encouraging of magic which they claim is “devil’s work.” These are among the many books that have been challenged or banned, and their reasons are also among many of the common ones cited in challenging or banning books.
Why Are Books Banned?
Though there are many reasons books are challenged or banned, the main ones are as follows:
- racial slurs or discrimination
- sexual content
- differing political or religious viewpoints
- LGBTQ+ content
Should Certain Books Be Banned?
Usually, books are banned by people with good intentions: they just want to protect their kids from what could be considered inappropriate content. Said people tend to be concerned parents and religious groups. Of course, like many things, what one person might consider inappropriate, another could consider a learning opportunity which brings us to the reason Banned Books Week exists: to celebrate the “freedom to seek and.. express ideas”, regardless of personal or societal beliefs. In considering this phrase and juxtaposing it with the reason books are challenged or banned, it’s interesting to think about if certain books should be banned. If not, should there be warnings or, should books be put in their own little section of the library lest a 9-year-old attempt to read something too “grown-up”?
Frankly, yes, I think certain books should be of restricted access at least in regards to certain age groups. Yes, I am all for learning opportunities to be given to children, however, I don’t think kids need to be reading about a man smoking three packs a day while solving a very detailed and gruesome murder in order to learn the dangers about smoking and why violence is not okay. Restricting access in this way is actually not a revolutionary concept; elementary schools usually have picture books and chapter books for the under grade 5s while high school libraries will have a wider variety of books targeted to older people.
On the other hand, I think that educators need to be better informed as to how to teach books that have, for example, racial slurs and various political or religious viewpoints, or which might just, in general, be problematic. 1984 by George Orwell is consistently taught in high schools as a discussion of government power, and as a warning for students in the age of social media and lack of privacy, both of which I do find important discussions. At the same time, though, there are certainly problematic aspects in the book in regards to relationships and mental health, for example, which are not typically discussed by professors, and thus might further perpetuate the previously aforementioned aspects.
Now, what is the line that should be drawn for books to be restricted vs be used as a learning opportunity? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know, though, of quite a few things:
- educators need to be better at teaching the various facets of history and how racism and sexism shaped society through books, specifically without further directly or indirectly perpetuating said racism and sexism.
- many books currently taught in high school to discuss the above topics could be better replaced by books written now *cough The Hate U Give cough* that give a better insight into the current condition of society, or discuss history from a perspective *cough people of colour cough* not previously given full light to.
- kids read books like Captain Underpants or Harry Potter not because they want tips on how to disobey their parents or because they want to join a coven when they grow up but rather because they provide a source of joy and reprieve that might actually propel them closer to reading more. This should be encouraged.
- adult books which do not have an opportunity to be taught the nuances of in a school should come with a reading guide as to why they are/may be problematic. For example, Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James has been challenged and banned as it includes highly explicit sexual content. On its own, I don’t think that should be the reason for a book to be challenged, let alone banned. HOWEVER, the book contains some very problematic views and incorrect information about relationships and BDSM, which many people might not know about.
Finally, overall, regardless of the concern brought up, there should be trigger warnings or at least a list of themes discussed written at the front of every single book. They are important for the mental safety of many people and are much appreciated even by people who may not have dealt with any trauma discussed.
So, that’s that about Banned Books Week 2019. What do you guys think about banned books and the discussion above? Also, if you want to learn more about Banned Books Week, feel free to check out this handbook of information and resources from bannedbooksweek.org!