Banned Books Week – September 24 – 30
Ever since the invention of the printing press in 1456, books have been banned, restricted, removed, censored or challenged for various reasons.
Dante’s The Divine Comedy was burned in 1497 on religious grounds. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible was burned in 1624 by Papal authority. Queen Elizabeth censored parts of Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of King Richard II” in 1597. Today, most books are censored for being “sexually explicit,” for using “offensive language,” or for being “unsuited to age group.”
Everywhere one turns, censorship rears its ugly head. Music CDs have parental warning stickers, movies and television have rating systems, parents, libraries and members of Congress seek to censor the Internet. An author may be asked to make revisions, less for artistic reasons than to avoid controversy. Bookstores and libraries may find published works too controversial and choose not to purchase them. Sometimes a publisher is so afraid that a book may be censored that he or she chooses not to publish it at all. This, of course, is the greatest loss. After all, when a published work is banned, it can usually be found elsewhere, but unexpressed ideas and unpublished works are lost forever.
The ACLU hopes to alert the public to the danger that arises when someone decides for the rest of us what is decent and indecent, and restricts our access to information. The essential message of Banned Books Week is the importance of ensuring the availability of every viewpoint to all who wish to read it. The First Amendment protects our right to express our own opinions and to read, see and hear others’ opinions, even those that might be unorthodox or unpopular.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Banned Books Week (BBW) was first held in September 1982 and sponsored by the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the American Library Association (ALA).
- Many people misinterpreted BBW to be a time to ban books.
- The most frequently challenged books are usually extremely popular or even classics that enjoy a wide readership. Exactly one third of the titles on the Modern Library list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century, including six of the top ten, have been removed or threatened with removal from bookstores, libraries and schools at some point.
- Between 1990 and 1999, the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA tracked 5,718 challenges to materials in schools, school libraries, and public libraries.
- The list of most challenged books is tabulated from two sources: newspapers and reports submitted by individuals.
- More than three-fourths of challenges to material occurred in schools, usually involving library material.
- The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling were the most frequently challenged books recently. Others on the list were Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.
- The most frequently challenged authors include Maya Angelou, Judy Blume, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and John Steinbeck.
“All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.” – George Bernard Shaw