Banned Books Week 2011

Bookworm Wednesday: Banned Books Week 2011

As most readerly and writerly types know, this week is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association and a number of other groups try to bring awareness to the American public about the vast problem of book censorship in this country.  Every year groups and individuals challenge and attempt to censor or ban a large variety of books from schools, curriculums, libraries, and bookstores.  People offer any number of reasons for censoring a book: inappropriate language, inappropriate sexuality, religious concerns, the promotion of “rebellious” behaviors, etc.  But, while it is true that some care needs to be taken in when and how you expose certain age groups to certain activities, themes, etc., this kind of censorship is always a fearful, knee-jerk reaction that rarely reflects any true “danger” in the book in question.  And wholesale censorship of any kind is just plain wrong.  Period.

Also, Banned Books Week is in its 30th year now, which is a pretty impressive mile-stone.

To learn more about this kind of censorship, Banned Books Week, the books that are challenged most often, and things you can do about it, you can go to:

The Banned Books Week Official Site

The ALA Banned Books Week Page

Wikipedia Page on Banned Books Week (which offers a little history on the event)

I have been bothered this week by the complete lack of any mention of Banned Books Week on the University of Houston campus.  I realize that state colleges do not have to deal with the same problems of censorship and challenges to books and free speech as K-12 schools and public libraries do, and this is a wonderful thing (though that thing about free speech is looking a little shaky after this incident).  However, this sense of safety enjoyed in colleges should make them the perfect place to start the conversation against censorship of any kind, but especially of books and literacy.

I myself have wanted to discuss the topic with the students in my Composition class.  However, I have so far been unable to figure out how to make the conversation anything more than: “Hey guys, did you know it’s Banned Books Week?”  I want to do more than simply mention it in passing at the beginning or ending of class; however, I simply don’t know how to effectively and legitimately make it a matter of discussion in a class on argumentation and of interest to college Freshmen and Sophomores.  The resources and discussions offered by the ALA website and others mainly focus on K-12 and public libraries, and does not translate well to college students.

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is: if anyone has any suggestions for ways I can bring the conversation into a college classroom meaningfully, I would appreciate it.  It’s probably a little too late to do much with it this year (my class only meets Tues and Thurs), but I’d love some ideas for next year.  I’m also thinking about ways I can get the campus as a whole more involved next year.  Maybe a Banned Book drive?  That we can arrange to be sent to places where books are being censored?  It’s a thought anyway…

In the meantime, go the ALA website and check out the list of Most Banned Books for 2010-2011, and see how many of your favorites made the list.  I think for the me, the one I love most but am not particularly surprised about is Slaughterhouse-Five.  The two books that I also love, and whose inclusion surprises me a little, are Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Which of your favorite books made the list?  What kinds of things do you (or can you) do for Banned Books Week?  And if you have any suggestions for my classroom, that would be awesome!