Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

This week (September 18th – 24th) is Banned Books Week.  No, it doesn’t mean we should ban books this week … quite the opposite!  My plan (and we all know how easily my plans are waylaid) is to do a couple of posts this week about the recent spate of banning books of all sorts by schools and libraries.  But for today, I just want to start by bringing awareness of Banned Books Week … how it started and why, and what the significance is today in the culture where whitewashing of history seems to be a political football.

Banned Books Week was founded in 1982 by First Amendment and library activist Judith Krug. Krug said that the Association of American Publishers contacted her with ideas to bring banned books “to the attention of the American public” after a “slew of books” had been banned that year. Krug relayed the information to the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, and “six weeks later we celebrated the first Banned Books Week.”

The event is sponsored by a coalition of organizations (far too numerous to list here) dedicated to free expression, including American Library Association, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; PEN America. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Banned Books Week receives support from DKT Liberty Project and Penguin Random House.  And those are just a few of the organizations in support of Banned Books Week.

For the 2022 event, student activist Cameron Samuels was named the first Youth Honorary Chair for distributing banned books in the Katy Independent School District in Texas. In April 2022, PEN America released a report titled “Banned in the USA” revealing an increase in book banning in the United States since 2021. Student activism against book banning also increased.

Let’s look at one ludicrous example … an example of a banned book that most of us have read or had read to us in our childhood and read to our own kids:  Charlotte’s WebCharlotte’s Web, published in 1952, is a delightful children’s book written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams.

The book tells the story of a livestock pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.  Innocent enough, yes?  However, Charlotte’s Web was banned in 2006.  WHY???  Because “talking animals are blasphemous and unnatural.”  Even crazier, in a few school districts, the Merriam-Webster dictionary has been banned!!!  WHY???  Because it contains “obscene words”.  Well duh … it’s a dictionary, for Pete’s sake!!!  Like it or not, ‘obscene’ words do exist!  Would you rather your kids get the definition of such words from other kids on the playground, or from a reliable source like the dictionary?

And that Mark Twain classic, Huckleberry Finn, was banned not for the fact that the n-word is used some 200 times throughout the book, but rather because “Huck not only itched but scratched, and that he said sweat when he should have said perspiration.”  Yes, my friends … some people are more offended by the word ‘sweat’ than they are by the racially hateful n-word.  Go figure.

The theme for this, the 40th annual Banned Books Week is “Books Unite Us.  Censorship Divides Us.” A perfect theme for this chaotic time in the U.S.  The vast majority of people do not want books banned …

… and yet this year alone, since January 1st, at least 1,651 books have been banned in various locales.  The biggest reasons for banning books historically have been that the material was ‘sexually explicit’, contained ‘offensive language’, or was simply considered unsuitable to any age group.  But today, books by Black authors or about racism, and books about the LGBTQ community or by LGBTQ authors are the most likely to be banned.

From an article by the American Libraries Association …

“This is a dangerous time for readers and the public servants who provide access to reading materials. Readers, particularly students, are losing access to critical information, and librarians and teachers are under attack for doing their jobs.”

What a shame that the narrow, closed minds of people result in the banning of books that open pathways to knowledge and imagination, that open the minds of the readers, that educate and entertain all at the same time.  I was lucky as a child … nothing was censored or banned from me.  In fact, I remember when I was 8 years old, during a cross-country car trip with my mother and my aunt, they took turns reading to me … whichever one wasn’t driving at the moment read and by the end of the journey, they had read the entire book, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, to me!  I didn’t understand most of it, but nonetheless I enjoyed it and knew it must be funny for both of them were laughing uproariously!  Catcher in the Rye has been banned numerous times since then for “excessive vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues.”

You’ve probably figured out by now that I am against book bans.  I think that there are far too many people with closed, bigoted minds today, and the path to an open mind is knowledge … knowledge of all kinds, knowledge about history, science, and about a wide variety of cultures.  How can we appreciate people who are different than us if we know nothing about them?  It is this ignorance that leads to the ‘fear of other’ that is causing so much chaos in this nation today.  No, banning books is the exact wrong solution!

47 thoughts on “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

      • I actually did not like this song when it came out, but I guess I never listened to it properly, so it has grown on me over the years. It is about a young woman gathering the courage to leave a controlling man, possibly even a cult leader. If my memory was working I might even be able to name of a cult leader from that era who used and abused young women. So, for your interested readers, here is Master Jack, by Four Jacks and a Jill, complete with lyrics… and commercials…

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  1. I read Charlotte’s Web in 7th grade English class (I had already read it, of course, more than once, I had my own copy). I read Huckleberry Finn when I was 10 & in 10th grade English class & again in an American Lit class in college. I read Catcher in the Rye in 9th grade English & again in 11th grade English (we had moved to another state & another school system).

    Amazing that NOW, these books, which used to be taught in school, are being banned.

    Other banned books that were taught in school when I attended in the 1970s: Fahrenheit 451, Catch 22, & even the Diary of Anne Frank. There are many more books that used to be taught in high school that aren’t even mentioned nowadays. The Collector, by John Fowles comes immediately to mind.

    The other day I was talking with a young man who attends Canisius College here in Buffalo, NY. We were talking about books & he had NEVER HEARD of either Fahrenheit 451 or Catch 22. When I was growing up, everyone knew these books, even if they had never read them. Indeed, if you mentioned a “Catch-22” situation, everyone knew what you were talking about.

    & Charlotte’s Web? I mean, c’mon ….

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    • Oh yes … I, too, have read all the ones you mention and my jaw dropped when you said the young college student had never heard of either “Fahrenheit 451” or “Catch 22”!!! Yes, isn’t it crazy that the books we cut our teeth on are now taboo? And why? I think perhaps too many of our generation were growing into deep thinkers, people who understood humanity, people who would fight for humanity, for equality, for freedom … and that didn’t set well with those who would rule as autocrats in a ‘democracy’. So, they decided to dummy-down future generations, to turn citizens into sheep that could easily be led and dominated.

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  2. In the late 50s and early 60s, not sure what years, books banned in Winnipeg included Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, and Lolita. I, of course, read them all, and I thought they were quite tame compared to other books we passed around between ju ior high students.

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      • The only scene I remember from one of the Henry Miller books–at least I remember it being from one of them–was the protagonist exacting revenge on an enemy bu burying hin neck deep in the desert, probably with hands tied behind his back, facing the midday sun, cutting off his eyelids, and pouring honey over his head. His story was that the desert ant had sharp beaks, and would eat the honey-covered skin off his head, while because he could not blink the sun would cook his eyeballs. I cannot remember what the guy did to him, but it must have been pretty bad.
        Why that story stuck with me, I’m not sure, but probably at the time I wanted to do that to my sperm donor. It would have been a jUst desert dessert for the ants, in my young mind.

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        • Oh … what a lovely thing to remember! Not! And I’m glad you didn’t get the chance to do that to your donor … you would either have spent the rest of your life in prison or else had eternal nightmares and feelings of guilt, for I know you are NOT a cruel man.

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          • As an abused child, if I had the power, I might have tried. But I chose to end the abuse by quietly walking away, even though he really deserved some kind of comeuppance.
            Today he could have been charged and convicted of child abuse x 10 and child rape x 3 (he had 10 children, including 3 daughters), but in those days, these things were allowed. In some ways, all things considered, society has come a long way, but when MAGAts say they want that world back again, they do not realize what the hell they are allowing. If the Repughs win the next few elections, 2022 and 2024, I do not want to be here anymore…

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              • No, they were not overlooked, at least not in my case. This was in the 50s and early 60s, but when I ran away, my sp would call the cops, and when they found me, they alwats found me, they would take me back to him no matter how much I told them how he treated me. I don’t remember their exact words, but they were to the effect the law sa8d he owned me until I was 16, and could treat me any way he felt proper. I would scream, cry, and refuse to cooperate, but they would just drag me home and leave there, knowing I would be getting a beating. That is not overlooking, that is aiding and abetting. The day I turned 16 I left, and the cops didn’t look for me anymore.

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      • About banning books in Canada, I doubt they were widespread bans, but any book that contained a sex scene or swear word was banned from our school libraries in Winnipeg just because. And of course the act of banning them made it necessary to read them. And they were easy to find in bookstores…

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  3. If these committees get the final say on what should and should not be read by schoolchildren, then, we should all, prop the children up in front of an iPad, and, create the zombies then. If the children don’t get expoosed to a wide variety of things they’re not accustomed to from their homes, how would they learn about being tolerant of one another’s, differences, and learn to, get along with each other in this world?

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    • Or … we should all find a way to teach the children what they are forbidden to learn in school! Nobody can tell you what books you are allowed in your home … at least not yet. You’re right … exposure to a wide variety of cultures and history is the path toward tolerance, toward eradicating bigotry in all its ugly forms. Which, I think, explains part of the reason for the cowardly book banning … they are afraid of what the next generation might think and how they might act.

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    • By non-exposure we get such things as MAGAts, and others around the world who believe what they are told by some, and do not believe what they are told by others. How they differentiate I cannot divine. But it reminds me of my long-lost parents, who never believed me when I told the truth, but always believed me when I told them the lies they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, lieing became a way of life for myself and my siblings. It took me years to break that habit, and it was not easy to do. What was easy was realizing what people, even strangers, wanted to hear, and feeding them their bullshit. I do not advise it as a lifestyle, but it is so easy to fall into that rabbithole.

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  4. Jill, thanks for this post. One thing book banners don’t realize, if you want to get a book read more, ban it. When a controversial movie was about to be released, the studio would usually be behind a boycott effort which assured more folks would go see what the fuss is all about. “Huckleberry Finn” teaches more about how we are all the same, but it often gets banned for the flagrant use of the n word. I saw where some have banned “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which only won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a must see movie about the horror of prejudice. And, if you really want to read a salacious book, pick up the Bible and get some direction of where the juicy parts are. Keith

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    • You make a good point there, my friend! Tell someone they are not allowed to read something, and they will read it or die trying!

      What disgusts me is people who have a certain belief-set, certain values, assuming that everyone else must fit into their narrow boxes, must think as they do rather than expanding their minds, broadening their horizons. If this level of censorship had taken place 100 years ago, 50 years ago, we would not have such things as the Internet, cell phones, personal computers, and more today, for people would not have been able to gain the basic knowledge to build on.

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      • Jill, it is amazing how many ideas put to paper by Jules Verne and HG Wells have spawned creation of new technologies. “To Kill a Mockingbird” caused many people to go into law. What if their books were banned? Keith

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        • Agreed!!! We’ll never know how many people’s life choices, whether career, education, or relationship, were a result of ideas found in books. As a child, I was rarely seen without a book in my hands and I cannot imagine having been denied that pleasure!

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  5. As someone who works in the public library profession, I have a huge apprehension for those that stick up against censorship and book banning. It’s atrocious what’s happening in the US right now. But also inspiring to see what libraries are doing in response. If you want a midweek inspiration, take a look at what New York and Brooklyn libraries are doing in response to book banning. So inspirational.

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    • It really IS atrocious, my friend. And it’s spreading … it started with banning books in schools, then public libraries, and now they’re even talking about stopping bookstores from selling certain books! I will be furious if they succeed in that effort, but I doubt they will. I will look at what the NYC and Brooklyn libraries are doing! I spent about half of my childhood/youth in Brooklyn, so I can pretty well imagine that they aren’t taking it lying down!

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  6. Pingback: Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us. | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  7. Are you familiar with the author George Dawson, who is black, and wrote a book about his hard, but eventually successful life. He is from Texas and they name a middle school after him and now they have banned the book. I think it’s called Life is So Good.

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