Fight Censorship During the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week”

By October 1, 2008

Since 1982, the American Library Association (ALA) has sponsored a national "Banned Books Week" during the last week of each September to celebrate the importance of taking a stand against censorship. As explained on the ALA’s BannedBooksWeek.org, the week is "the only national celebration of the freedom to read." And banning books is indeed a problem: the site points out that "more than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982."

Curious which books have been banned? There might be several that surprise you. According to the ALA, the following were the most challenged books of 2007:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
  4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

For a full listing of books that have been banned over the years and to find out why, check out the ALA’s website. As the ALA explains, while "books usually are challenged with the best intentionsto protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information," these reasons are never sufficient to prevent people from engaging in ideas for themselves. As FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors told our interns this summer, "Anyone who tells you that you are too weak for freedom is not your friend."

To commemorate the week, bookstores, libraries, high schools and colleges around the country have been hosting events and creating displays to focus the public’s attention on this serious problem. The Philadelphia Inquirer had a great story Monday about efforts near FIRE’s Philadelphia office to host a public reading of books that have once been banned:

[Thomas] Devaney, also a visiting poet at Haverford College, will be one of eight readers from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the Rosenbach, at 2008-2010 Delancey Place in Philadelphia. He chose a passage from Erasmus’ "The Praise of Folly," a satirical essay critical of the Catholic Church. The work was published in 1511 and was later banned by the church.

"The program will explain what was banned and why," said Judy Guston, the museum’s curator and director of collections.

Books from the Rosenbach collection, including Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, will be on display. That children’s favorite has regularly made the library association’s "most-challenged" list since its publication in 1970 because of baby Mickey’s nudity.

To find an event in your area, go here.

Regular Torch readers may not be as surprised as some to learn about the sheer volume of books that are contested at libraries and schools around the country. One only need recall the shameful case of Keith Sampson at IUPUI, found guilty of racial harassment for merely reading a book, to be reminded that this type of ignorance is not unknown to our nation’s colleges and universities, institutions that should be the most vocal champions of the freedoms we cherish most.

I would encourage everyone to take a moment this week to grab a favorite book (perhaps one from the "banned" list!) and spend some time exercising your right to read and think whatever you wish.