Free speech advocates can’t help but get excited this time of year. Banned Books Week is here. It’s like an extra holiday. Part of its observance is to look at the list of books that others think you shouldn’t read and pick out new items for your reading list.
The books challenged during the year as reported in the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom are as varied as usual. From an easy-to-read version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to Stephen King’s “Different Seasons,” the works include a wide variety of reading material.
The summary of the complaints are typical of those seen every year, most relating to attempts to remove books from schools. Objectionable language, graphic sexual content, inclusion of gay lifestyles, and references to suicide are among reasons listed.
But among this year’s case summaries, a particular gem stands out. In a Chicago school, authorities removed the book “Persepolis,” a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, because of concerns about “graphic illustrations and language.” Students were to study the novel about the author’s experience growing up in Iran during the revolution.
When students found out the district banned the book, a wonderful thing happened. They got mad and they got busy. They initiated public discussion on social media, checked out all the library copies of the books, wrote blogs, sent e-mails, wrote articles for the school paper, contacted the author, staged protests and appeared on local media.
And they won their battle. The book was allowed back into the classroom.
This sort of action sends good shivers up the spine, knowing that today’s youth still recognize the importance of First Amendment rights, including the freedom to choose reading materials. When young people fight for their freedom to choose what they want to read, they are also learning tolerance and respect for opposing points of view.
A college librarian who was disappointed about the unenthusiastic response to Banned Books Week activities last year decided to adopt his staff’s recommendation to ban a book. (During one of the sparsely attended banned book events, a local author had jokingly volunteered his new book for banning.) The experiment was a success. As soon as you tell someone they can’t have access to something, they, of course, want access.
The librarian and his staff got people’s attention, and students voiced their protest over the ban in multiple ways (and the author probably sold more books than ever). But more importantly, they delivered the message that any book at any time could be under attack.
Access to thoughts, ideas and other people’s words is a right that should be fought for.
The Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Minn.