The freedom to read

CHALLENGED BOOKS  —  Pictured above is a selection of books that have been banned or challenged for various reasons.Objectional content, language, violence and inappropriate situations for the age in which they were written are just some of the reasons.  I-O Photo by Melissa Huber






By Melissa Huber, I-O Reporter

Google’s sophisticated algorithms speculate that there are approximately 129,864,880 books in the entire world. With that much to choose from there is bound to be something for everyone, but only if the access to all those books remains open.

A list of the 11 most ironically banned books of all time by Sam Greenspan on put book banning in perspective with his comment about the famously banned series Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: “I…find it fitting that people have worked tirelessly to ban the one book that made an entire generation of kids want to read books.” He went on to say, “Harry Potter did more for literacy than Hooked on Phonics and Pizza Hut’s Book It combined.”

The act of book banning, however, is not a new thing, nor is it restricted to books like Harry Potter. Countless amounts of classics have been banned over the years, and many continue to be banned today. A ban, or an attempt to ban, is almost always a small localized incident where one person, or one group of people, has made a decision for many, and unfortunately most bans are centered in schools.

That’s why, in 1982, Banned Books Week was launched to draw attention to the harm of censorship and also to celebrate the freedom to read. Since then 11,300 books, on record, have been challenged.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Mark Twain classic, has been banned numerous times due, in part, to the amount of times the word “nigger” is present in the work. In addition, it has been banned for its exposure of (at the time) the ignorance and racism of the south, and it has paradoxically been challenged for allegedly being a racist work itself.

It is obvious that not only was the time period in which Huckleberry Finn was written not taken into account, but the nature of the protagonist wasn’t either.

At the beginning, Huckleberry Finn is nothing if not a product of his generation, but as time goes by, and with the help of Jim, he begins to think about his inherent nature, and question it.

He uses the word “nigger” because everyone else does. He feels he should turn Jim in because that is what he is told is the right thing to do. He “exposes” the ignorance and racism of the south by simply being honest to the reader about what he sees and hears. It is only when Huckleberry starts to listen to his heart and question the rules of society that the reason for such language and situations becomes apparent.

These are things that become clear when a book is read critically. The appearance of a work is secondary to the subject matter within.

Author Judy Blume, one of the most frequently banned authors of the 21st century and also one of the most celebrated, gave her opinion of the issue in this statement, “Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.”

Obviously younger children should be monitored in what they read, but that is why books are separated out into sections: children’s, young adult, and adult fiction. Any restrictions given within those sections should be set by the parent for their children only.

When Printz Award winning author and New York Times Best Seller, John Green, heard his book Looking for Alaska had been banned from a school that was going to teach it, he was not surprised to find a parent who was not directly involved in the matter (they didn’t have a child in the grade teaching the book) had merely skimmed the book before deciding it was unfit.

In a blog post he made concerning another author getting banned because his book contained Mexican American characters, Green made this very appropriate comment, “You cannot know whether a novel is obscene from a screenshot of a single page on television news.”

Ultimately, the decision to read or not read a book is your own, or, if you’re young, your parents’. Making that decision for other people because you have made it for yourself is censorship, especially if it was based on a buzz word or a perceived inappropriate scene taken out of context. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It’s when those opinions start affecting other people’s freedom to make decisions for themselves that it becomes too much.