When you’re surrounded by shelves of books every day, it is sometimes easy to take for granted the limited access some people have to great books. It is also easy to feel a little spoiled by all the great conversations we get to have. Every day we get to talk about what we’re reading with each other and with people who come in looking for their new favorite. Partly because of this, it still comes as a shock to me that in some communities those conversations don’t ever get a chance to start. Even as I’m writing this, a number of people have stopped and chatted about their surprise at seeing certain books on our Banned Books display. Some examples seem completely ridiculous: banning the Diary of Anne Frank for being “too depressing,” or Where the Sidewalk Ends for promoting cannibalism… really? But other books, the kind meant to spark a conversation, don’t get the chance to do that. So we treat Banned Books Week as a time to highlight those missed opportunities, to bring those books that some have tried to hide from the shelves out on full display.
Since we’re wrapping up Banned Books Week, we wanted to leave a few thoughts about some of the books we’ve featured this week at City Lit:
I have to admit I always get annoyed when I read negative criticism of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, so of course I was upset to find out it was challenged (though not ultimately banned) in a Pennsylvania school district in 2011. Obviously the parent who wanted to knock it off the reading list simply didn't want students to be exposed to the truths that Ehrenreich helps bring to light: namely, that America treats people in poverty grossly unfairly, and that life is extremely hard when you're only making minimum wage. This is an important book! Everyone should read it!
- Maddie, on Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Brave New World and 1984: I'm going to stick with a couple of classics. Whether you see the world around you as suffering from doublethink or too much soma, these dystopian tales unfortunately continue to become more and more relevant. Personally, I see it as a frightening combination of the two (especially since the election) and it felt necessary to revisit both of these. So, I'd suggest grabbing yourself a copy-- JUST in case they get pulled away again.
Seriously though, an article was just published about an Idaho school district considering a ban of 1984. Check it out here!
- Jordan, on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell
Where the Wild Things Are - one of my favorite books as a kid, and maybe one of my favorites as a not-so-kid, too. It holds up, and it has been challenged for as long as it has been on shelves. Longer even - Sendak tried to get it published for years before it was finally brought to the public! Maybe it’s the unflinching story of rebellion and fear that caused so many to question its merit, but it has been celebrated as often as it has been challenged, winning awards, being a best seller, and even getting a dramatic reading by President Obama on the White House lawn. The Cleveland Press’ review of Where the Wild Things Are said “Boys and girls may have to shield their parents from this book. Parents are very easily scared." Too bad for those parents, they’re missing out on a great book.
- Matty, on Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Banned Books Week was first celebrated in 1982, and now every year the American Library Association tracks challenges and complaints about books across the US. You can find their list of the most often challenged titles by year at this website.
By Matty, Jordan, and Maddie