Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | September 4, 2002

Read a banned book, celebrate the First Amendment

In the shadow of the anniversary of the terrorism of Sept. 11, a horrific expression of intolerance, is the upcoming “Banned Books Week” observance (I hesitate to use the word celebration).

Banned Books Week is held to underscore American’s First Amendment rights, especially the freedom to express opinions – even unpopular or unusual opinions – and to ensure the availability of those opinions in the form of books.

This year’s Banned Books Week will be held from Sept. 21 to 28. Although many people think of it as a “liberal” event, it is in fact conservative. How can I defend that? It is conservative because it seeks to retain the status quo; that is, the right to read what you want to read, as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Or, as the theme of this year’s event succinctly puts it, “Free people read freely.”

One of the highlights of Banned Books Week is the list of most-frequently challenged books and authors from the previous year. It’s always eye-opening to review the list. For 2001, a wildly popular series destined to become classics, the “Harry Potter” books by J.K. Rowling, which relate the adventures of an orphaned boy wizard, tops the list.

It’s sad and ironic that the “Harry Potter” novels that have turned a young, video-drenched generation onto the joys of reading are the same books that so many people most want to prevent them from reading.

One of the most-challenged authors of last year, Judy Blume, said, “It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

Blume, a prolific author, earned her spot on the most-challenged authors list, according to the American Library Association, because so many of her books have been contested, including “Forever,” “Blubber,” “Deenie,” “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” and “Tiger Eyes.”

Why not honor America’s First Amendment rights by reading one of the top-10 challenged books from last year? Besides the “Harry Potter” series, the list includes:

  • “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
  • “The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
  • “Summer of My German Soldier” by Bette Green
  • “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
  • “Alice” series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • “Go Ask Alice” by Anonymous
  • “Fallen Angels” by Walter Dean Myers
  • “Blood and Chocolate” by Annette Curtis Klause

If that’s not enough for you, visit the ALA Web site (www.ala.org/bbooks) and peruse the list of 100 most-frequently challenged books in the last decade. It includes many of my favorites, including “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, to name just a few.

Why do some people try to have books banned? The ALA says the most common targets are books that contain sexual themes, offensive language, violence or promote a religious viewpoint. You could probably make a case for banning the Bible for any of those reasons. Sadly, someone probably has.

But thankfully, I can read the Bible, or Harry Potter’s adventures or any other book that catches my fancy, because the First Amendment guarantees it.

“Censorship, like charity, should begin at home. But unlike charity, it should stay there.” ~ Journalist, editor, politician and playwright Clare Booth Luce.

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