Rethinking Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week! You probably already knew that—libraries and bookstores across the country make a huge deal out of this week. As they should. Censorship is a serious issue, and this is a discussion we need to have.

Banned Books Trading Cards at Chapel Hill Public Library

Still, something about this event bothers me: Last time I walked by a “Banned Books” display, I realized I’d already read most of the books on the table. Many were required reading in high school and college. Others were bestsellers (some quite recent) that experienced backlash of some kind.

I’m not denying the challenges these books and their authors faced, not at all. The fact that these stories have been so successful is a triumph over censorship. My concern is different.

What does it say about us, that when we celebrate our freedom to read, we pick up books we’ve already read? If we want to champion controversial books, maybe we should read books challenge our own beliefs as well. We should strive to encounter new ideas, not reread our AP Lit. curriculum.

There are probably Banned Books you haven’t read. The official list contains thousands of titles. Pick one you’ve never even heard of. Challenge your own status quo: read books by authors with drastically different opinions. Read about politics and religion. Read about race and identity and current events. Think about what you read, and give those ideas due consideration.

I’d also like to point out that there are different ways to “ban” a book. Censorship by omission matters, too. How many books are never published? How many stories are never told?

We have to remember that most books we see on our library’s shelves passed through the hands of countless editors, proofreaders, and publicists before they went to print. We have no idea how many books slipped through their fingers because they “weren’t a good fit” for that publishing house.