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Friday, September 20, 2013

Banned Books Week Begins September 22

Written by Kyle Slagley

Next week marks the 31st Annual Banned Books Week in the U.S., similar to our Freedom to Read Week, which will be observed in February. The cause is meant to encourage both readers and librarians to re-examine challenged and banned works, but perhaps more importantly, to promote the freedom to read in libraries, schools, and bookstores.

Having closely looked over the list of books most frequently challenged in the past decade I decided to highlight a few that I have read, and give my reaction to them. If your library chooses to censor these or any other books, that is your choice and you may take my reactions with as much salt as you like.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: This series has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since it hit shelves for the first time in 1997. It was attacked primarily for promoting witchcraft among children and young adults. Despite the conflict, the franchise has made over $15 billion dollars. I own every book and every movie. Do I walk around wearing t-shirts with the Gryffindor crest or the word ‘Muggle’ on them? No. But I think these books are largely harmless because the content is so fantastical that I believe the concerns about witchcraft to be largely unfounded. What kid wouldn’t want to go to a school where he or she can learn how to fly on a broomstick, levitate objects with the flick of a wrist, and live in an awesome castle?

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: This series, consisting of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, is highly controversial because of its notions concerning both witchcraft and the oppression of the book’s version of the Catholic Church. I found the books incredibly well written – not for the religious controversy, but because of the depth Pullman writes into his characters. The struggles that protagonists Lyra and Will encounter while attempting to come of age in this dangerous world is absolutely fascinating. In this, as well as other series, it’s important to stress to readers that these works are labeled fiction for a reason and are not to be taken too seriously.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Hosseini’s first book was met with a large amount of controversy from both American readers as well as Afghan-Americans. Americans challenged the book because it blatantly exposed things like homosexuality, pedophilia, drug abuse, and oppression amongst the various sects within Afghanistan. Afghan-Americans reportedly never denied the allegations, but rather protested against Hosseini for publicizing things about their culture that they claimed were better left unsaid. For me, the book was an absolute fantastic read. Hosseini has a way of telling his stories which is quite unlike the majority of other modern writers and it really resonates with me. I felt the same about his novels A Thousand Splendid Sons and And the Mountains Echoed.

Are there more books that I could write about that have been frequently banned and/or challenged? Certainly! There are dozens! For a full list of books that fall on this list, check out Freedom to Read's list of challenged works (or ALA’s Banned Books webpage, for the U.S. version). For audiobooks and movie versions of some of the books on that list, visit the CVS Midwest Tape website and click the Banned Books Week panel on the left side of the homepage.

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