Banned Books Week: Celebrate your right to read

Obscene, blasphemous, violent, smutty, gory, profane, and racially charged—this is how the censors describe some books. They say, “No.” They say you can’t read it. They say that they know better. They say they are protecting children and preserving values in the community. They say, “No.”

“Yes” is what I say.  Yes, you can have what you want to read. Ask me and I will do my best to give you “obscene, blasphemous, violent, smutty, gory, profane, and racially charged” if that is what you want. If that is not what you want, I will help you find what you do want.

I am public librarian. I will protect and defend your right to read whatever you want, even if you are a kid. I do this each and every day. But, this week is particularly special because it is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. According to the American Library Association, more than 1,300 books have been challenged since the inception of the event.

This year, I am defending your right to read about underwear clad superheroes, gay penguins, bondage, ghosts and a potty-mouthed Native American. All these topics have been the subject of book challenges. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported. The 10 most challenged titles of 2012 were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  1. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  1. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  1. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  1. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  1. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  1. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

Reading banned books motivates me to champion intellectual freedom, and I am not the only one who was inspired by the right to the read. Poudre River Public Library District Librarian Nicole Burchfield says, “If it wasn’t for Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz being on ALA’s Banned Books list year after year, I probably would not be a librarian and a storyteller. And, there definitely wouldn’t be a Spooky Stories program happening at the Old Town Library next month.” She explained that if a person went to the trouble to try to get a book banned then it probably is a book worth reading. Banned books contributed to her love of reading as well as mine.

When librarians aren’t creating their own programs inspired by banned books, sometimes they work with authors who battle censors but continue writing. It just so happens that Fort Collins is home to Lauren Myracle, the young adult author who ranked number one on the American Library Association’s top 10 most frequently challenged books list in 2011 and 2009—and who also made the list in 2008 and 2007.

“I don’t shy from controversy. I’m telling stories, and I’ll tell whatever story seems like it wants to be told,” says Myracle. She will discuss her new book for older teens The Infinite Moment of Us on October 19th at 2 p.m. at Old Town Library.

In the meantime, while the library gets ready for these two exciting programs that touch upon banned literature, we encourage you to come to any of the Poudre Libraries starting Monday, September 23 through Saturday, September 28 to get caught reading a banned book. Bring your camera to get your mug shot with a book.

banned books