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Celebrate Your Freedom to Read

Angelica Rodriguez

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Okay, quick poll! Raise your hand if you know what the last week of September is. Anyone? Well, allow me to inform you. The week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 was Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of people’s freedom to read and the significance of our First Amendment right to free speech. Big deal, you think, I don’t read anyway. Right?

Wrong. According to the book Media and Culture, the book remains the oldest (and most effective) mass medium, whether you read often or never pick up a book. Relatively easy to mass produce and accessible to everyone regardless of your race, gender, or social class, everyone has the chance to be exposed to the ideas of countless writers around the world. Yet books continue to be challenged and banned in schools and elsewhere in the United States (not only in other nations). For those of you who might say these bans only occur in certain regions, such as the Bible Belt of the Midwest, think again- visit the American Library Association’s website at www.ala.org and you will be directed to a map that shows where bans or challenges (where someone requests a book be taken off a shelf or restricted) have occurred.  A large majority of them occur along the East Coast, as well as the upper Midwest, South, and parts of the West Coast. And that’s not even a complete list: only those that have been documented.

So why and how is a book challenged or banned? According to the ALA website, a well-meaning person may challenge a book in order to protect others, usually children, from its ideas and images. The subject material may be everyday life situations for many of us; however some may find it too controversial or subversive for consumption. There are formal processes that either a school or library may have in order to make this possible.

Among the titles that have been frequently challenged or banned are Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding. According to the challengers, the books contain crude racial slurs, sexual content, violent images, and swear words among other material “not suitable” for reading. And the list does not stop here: Google the words “banned books list” and millions of hits pop up, referring to lists as well as articles.

Personally, I have read all of the books listed above, as well as many others on various lists, and while yes, some of the words and images are graphic and disturbing, it does not mean they are not good literature. As a writer myself, I know that sometimes one has to make a decision on whether or not to include a word, or a scene, in a story to make it credible. For instance, if Holden Caulfield had his potty mouth turned into cheesy phrases such as “Gosh darn” and “for Pete’s sake,” Salinger would have had a much harder time conveying a message of angst and rebellion. Also, many of the people who have challenged or pushed for books to be banned have likely never even read the book in its entirety. Certain branches of the NAACP have called for Huckleberry Finn to be banned because of its use of the N-word, but do they realize that Twain’s objective was to preach against slavery? In fact, the good slave Jim was the most compassionate character in the book, whereas Huck’s father was the least.

All of that aside, the purpose of this week from September to October is to celebrate the freedom to read what we choose to, and to exercise our right to free speech. Although people have the choice of what to read and what to avoid, they should not be allowed to make that choice for anyone else. Everyone should be allowed to be exposed to different situations and cultures, and books are a wonderful medium to be able to do that. No one should be able to take that away. So go out and celebrate your freedom to make that choice. While you’re at it, check out the ALA website for a list of banned books and links, and read one. It might change the way you think.

Editor’s note: Didn’t get the chance to read a book during Banned Books Week? Read one anytime and tell us about it! Email ChargerBulletin@newhaven.edu and let us know if YOU think it should be banned or not!

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Celebrate Your Freedom to Read