As with many avid readers, I have loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. I have many fond memories of my parents reading to me: before bed at night, when I was sick in bed, or when I just walked up to them with book in hand and asked them to read to me. Nightly readings to me turned into my parents teaching me how to read as part of my homework when I was in kindergarten. As I grew and my reading comprehension and vocabulary improved, I found myself wanting to tackle larger and harder tomes, many of which my sister, who is eight years my senior, was reading in her high school and college lit classes.
It wasn’t until I was in the fourth or fifth grade that I first learned about Banned Books Week, an event which has been around since it’s founding in 1982 by First Amendment and library activist, Judith King. My initial response to this event, which is held annually the last week of September, was one of absolute shock and horror. Shock and horror that individuals and groups alike would try to ban a person’s First Amendment right of Free Speech and subsequently the right to read and have access to the book of their choosing. This concept was so foreign to me because my parents had never said that I “couldn’t read a book because of x, y, or z reasons.” When I was in the sixth grade and wanted to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood all my parents said was to come to them with any questions and we would discuss the book when I was done.
This was something my parents would say to me on many occasions over the course of my informative years. There were even times when my parents or sister would mention or suggest a book that others have taken issue with. It was my dad, backed up by my mom, who suggested I read Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 following my confused tirade about the banning of books in the United States. Written in 1953, Farenheit 451 tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job it is to set books on fire due to society having determined that books cause “discord and unhappiness.” Since its initial publication, Farenheit 451 has faced numerous challenges and bans, making it a true story of irony. Ray Bradbury was inspired to write the popular book about the harm of book banning after viewing footage of the Nazi book burnings as a child. Needless to say, as a strong opponent of those who would ban books from school and library shelves, Farenheit 451 became to me an instant favorite.
Thus it was due to my initial introduction to Banned Books Week that I have made it a point to read at least one banned or challenged book during this week every year. This year, Banned Book Week runs from September 27th – October 3rd and the focus is on young adult books. Young Adult books as the theme was chosen because, as the Chair of the Banned Books Week Committee, Judith Platt, said: “Young Adult books are challenged more frequently than any other type of book. These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. This Banned Books Week is a call to action, to remind everyone that young people need to be allowed the freedom to read widely, to read books that are relevant for them, and to be able to make their own reading choices.” http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/node/8805
As it is, six of the top ten most challenged or banned books in 2014 fall into the young adult category:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Persepolis by Marianne Satrapi
- And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robin Harris
- Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
- Drama by Reina Telgemeier
With these titles in mind, it is my hope to read three of the six books (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Drama) not only to add to the number of books I read in a year but also to show my support of Banned Books Week. I continue to show my support of banned books by checking banned books out from my local library, by purchasing books that have been banned or challenged, by having discussions about these books with other readers and by attending Banned Books Week events at the library and book store.