By Andrea Kiliany Thatcher, Marketing Manager and Book Publicist
Happy Banned Books Week! As a former bookseller and advocate for independent bookstores, when I think of banned books week I think of traditionally challenged books like Lolita, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. These were the books that typically made up the Banned Books Week display at the bookstores where I worked.
As an active member of the literary community, I was shocked at how naive my assumptions about banned books were. Did you know books are still being banned by school boards and administrations, political and religious groups, and even the government? I didn’t. Or, at least not to the extent that it’s happening in society today. I found this video from the American Library Association enlightening. Some of our most celebrated contemporary authors, especially those writing in the young adult space (Caldecott Medal winners!), are being challenged for presenting world views that may be different than those who challenge them.
Challenges to books are increasingly made surrounding sexually explicit content, offensive language, and even the mere presence of LGBTQ+ characters. The representation marginalized groups have fought for that has benefitted from campaigns like the We Need Diverse Books movement isn’t seen as a victory by all, it seems. Beloved, important contemporary authors that enrich the literary space like John Green, Rainbow Rowell, John Levithan and Chuck Palahniuk are being challenged for content such as LGBT content, sexually explicit material that can be as mundane as same-sex characters holding hands or the implication of heterosexual sex outside of marriage, and offensive language that can be heard in any prime time network TV show.
More complicated and challenging to many of us is the censorship of Bill Cosby’s children’s book “Little Bill” on the grounds of alleged criminal sexual allegations against the author. While many people may find the inclusion of the controversial figure’s work in our schools and libraries anything from distasteful to dangerous, is it a reason to censor a completely unrelated book? It’s a tough question, for sure, and perhaps one that makes the censorship conversation a little more uncomfortable. But when champions of banned books are the ones questioning an author or content, it gives us more empathy and understanding into the viewpoint of those who oppose other books. That empathy is an enriching part of critical thinking and the reading experience.
Exposure to different ideas is not the enemy. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful advantages of reading. Scientific American reports research from The New School that reading literary fiction improves students’ ability to infer and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions.
We’d love to know what your favorite banned book is, there are some lists of banned books to choose from here. Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram what books are your favorites, or which you were surprised to find on the list!