Closer Readings Commentary

Celebrating the Freedom to Read! Banned Books Week: Sep 24–30, 2017

Yes, books are dangerous. They should be dangerousthey contain ideas.” —Pete Hautman

Founded in 1982, Banned Books Week is sponsored by a coalition of national organizations devoted to freedom of speech, such as the American Library Association, and it is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Traditionally celebrated the last week of September, Banned Books Week is a time to reflect upon a cornerstone of our democracy—the freedom to read! Librarians, educators and bibliophiles all across the country tout this opportunity to encourage Americans to examine literary works that have been challenged, and to promote intellectual freedom in many venues, such as libraries, schools, and bookstores.

Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information and creative expression of ideas while exposing the harmful nature of censorship. ALA background outlines the principles behind this week and its primary objective “to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

EDSITEment vetted website The Bill of Rights Institute provides educators with a trove of background information on the Freedom of Speech, including an interactive activity that gives students the means to explore Life Without the Bill of Rights.

Every year during this time school librarians and educators sponsor local events to celebrate the freedom to read. Since the founding year, there have been calls to join in a variety of communal reading activities such as a Virtual Read-out!

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom keeps annual records of hundreds of attempts by individuals and groups to have books removed from libraries' shelves and from classrooms. Refer to ALA’s page of Frequently Challenged Books for more details. According to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, over the years at least 46 classics on the list of Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century have been the targeted in attempt to ban them. Here is that list of Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century, with the historical record of the rationale for challenges, banning, and in some cases burning of these books.

To preface the National Book Festival in 2012, the Library of Congress created an exhibition which explored the profound effect “Books that Shaped America” have had on our nation. Here is a list of “Banned Books that Shaped America” and some of the reasons certain selections from the exhibition have been subjected to challenges in various places.  

EDSITEment’s repository of Literature and Language contains supplemental curriculum resources to critically examine and analyze a number of widely taught literary classics that have surfaced over the years on various lists of challenged books. They are linked below: