As most of you may already know, right now it is Banned Books Week. Right now I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby for The Great Gatsby Re-Read Project. It’s one of my favorite books ever and, incidentally, it tops the list of Banned/Challenged Classics as found on the ALA website here. In fact, 4 out of 5 of the classic books that I plan to re-read and analyze over the course of the next 5 months are on this list. The only book that didn’t make it on there is Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t plan it this way, it just turns out that some of my favorite books ever are books that have been frequently banned or challenged.
Here’s a little story. I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was 9 years old. I had a friend who was 4 years older than me and in middle school. When I was hanging out her room I saw To Kill a Mockingbird on her desk and read the first 2 chapters. I really liked reading it but I couldn’t take it home because she was reading it for class, so I found it in the library and borrowed it. To Kill a Mockingbird completely changed my reading experience. Before I picked it up, pretty much all I was reading was The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley Twins. Not that there’s anything wrong with those books, but they didn’t open my eyes to social issues and challenge my sheltered worldview. After To Kill a Mockingbird, I read books like Little Women, The Secret Garden, Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, The Chronicles of Narnia, and had a rather premature experience with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the time my parents didn’t let me buy books because I could borrow them for free in the library. In addition to my frequent visits to my school library, my dad took me at least once a week to the library on a Naval Base and he would sit and read newspapers and magazines while I wandered the stacks and searched for books that I wanted to read. Soon after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I went from solely perusing the Children’s/Teens section to the adult books. My growth as a reader would not have been possible if those books were not available to me in the library. Was I too young to read To Kill a Mockingbird? Some might argue yes but it was a book that came to me at exactly the right time. It was what I needed at 9 years old in order to grow as a reader and as a person. I might not have become an English major if I hadn’t read that book. I might not have this blog now. I don’t like the idea that it might not have been freely available to me because some random Board or whatever made the decision to not put the book in my school and in my library for reasons that probably have more to do with their own personal world views than with the book itself. I don’t believe that it’s an educator’s job to enforce their own opinions and views of the world through controlling and limiting the reading materials made available to children and young adults. It is their job to provide the proper open discussions and free discourse on books with a variety of themes and issues presented in them, even and most especially the difficult ones.
Check out the various lists of banned/challenged books on the ALA website here. Pick up a banned book this week and encourage others to do the same. Join me in reading (or re-reading) The Great Gatsby if you’d like. I’m almost halfway through it and I’ll be making the first part of my analysis post in the next few days.