Section: Features

Banned Books Week brings attention to controversial titles

Banned Books Week brings attention to controversial titles

COURTESY OF OFFICE FOR COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS

Looking for Alaska, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Court of Mist and Fury: All three of those popular young-adult novels made the top 10 most challenged books in 2022, according to the American Library Association. During Banned Books Week, which will take place from Oct. 1-7, the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County will host a series of events in honor of this year’s theme: “Let Freedom Read!”  

The international recognition of Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to an increase in public outcry over certain books being taught in schools or made available to people in libraries or bookstores. The aim of this week is to bring together “the entire book community” — which consists of “librarians, educators, authors, publishers, booksellers and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas,” according to bannedbooksweek.org.

Many lists of banned books from the past century include works that were written by queer authors or explore content relating to marginalized religions. The top three most challenged books in 2022 were Gender Queer by Maia Kokabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, which faced objections due to LGBTQIA+ or sexually explicit content. For this year’s community read, the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County chose the book Maus by Art Spiegleman, a graphic novel about the Holocaust that a Tennessee school board voted to remove from its eighth-grade curriculum last year. 

“Many of the same books appear year after year: Gender Queer has topped the list for the last few years, but The Bluest Eye shows up over and over, along with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky wrote in an email to the Collegian. “It’s no great revelation to observe that this list is a kind of mirror of cultural anxieties, at least as they get filtered through the small minority of people who seem to file most of the challenges against these books.”

Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt noted that in the past three years, she has seen an uptick in books by Black authors being banned in schools and titles by LGBTQIA+ authors being pulled out of libraries. Heidt said that some may be frightened by the fact that these books present stories and ideas that could change peoples’ minds on things.  She mentioned Gender Queer as an example as it discusses gender identity. 

Austin Brown ’24, an English and philosophy major who works for the Writing Center, mentioned that there are multiple banned books he has had to read for school. Brown believes that “none of them deal with topics I find inappropriate for high schoolers, nor were they things myself or my classmates were unfamiliar or incapable of dealing with as high schoolers.” For students of all ages, reading a wide range of books will only broaden perspectives.

Lobanov-Rostovsky, Heidt and Brown all agreed on one thing: sales for books on the list only go up in response to banned book lists being published. Brown mentioned that this is a “silver lining” to the practice. People become curious, resulting in the books becoming more popular, said Heidt.

It is impossible to predict what the future holds for book bans. Heidt hopes that this is the peak, but mentioned that it is ultimately up to the current generation to continue reading these books, teaching children about these books and supporting public libraries. She fears that taking away knowledge and curiosity will only result in the conformity of ideas.

Lobanov-Rostovsky believes that, based on his experience, “the list will change to reflect the evolving focus of the culture wars… Only time will tell, but the crucial thing to remember is that no one ever succeeds at banning books. Like anything we try to repress, they always return when the politicians who profit from that outrage lose their grip on power.” There may be a battle to repress them, but books have a way of surviving. 

For anyone who would like to gain an understanding of Banned Books Week, the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County will be hosting workshops, discussions and a Banned Books Tasting. There will be a book giveaway while supplies last at the main library. 

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