Saturday, April 4, 2020
April 4, 2020

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Check It Out: Book sheds light on dangers of censorship

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Sept.25 – Oct. 1 is Banned Books Week. Started in 1982 by librarian and First Amendment activist Judith Krug, this annual event celebrates the freedom to read. Libraries have long embraced this awareness campaign because it not only promotes the rights of individuals to read whatever they choose, it affords an opportunity to highlight banned or challenged titles. According to the American Library Association, Banned Books Week “stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”

Reviewing a list of banned books is always an eye-opening experience. What some readers consider “unorthodox or unpopular” may be quite surprising: The Bible, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” and “The Kite Runner,” to name just a few. Some titles stirred up controversy at the time of publication but have become more accepted over the years, such as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Even hugely popular books such as the Harry Potter series have received challenges and requests for removal from libraries, proving that best-seller status and worldwide popularity do not protect the written word from potential censorship.

If you’re curious about which books have been “banned, suppressed, and censored because of political, religious, sexual, and social reasons,” spend some time reading this week’s book, “120 Banned Books.” Sadly, many more than that have received challenges, but 120 titles are more than enough to provide a solid view into the world of censorship.

Divided into the four categories listed above — political grounds, religious grounds, sexual grounds, and social grounds — readers can forge their way through all 120 of the censored titles, or one can pick a favorite title from the Contents page, and fly directly to the censorship history of a specific work. Each entry also provides bibliographic detail — original dates and places of publication, publisher information, etc. — and a summary of the book’s contents.

Every title included in “120 Banned Books” has a tale to tell, whether it first appeared on a banned list centuries ago, or more recently. Turn to the entry for the Bible, for example, and you’ll learn that challenges to the Bible’s contents originated very early on: “Battles over the correct version of the Bible began in the early years of Christianity, when many of the church’s first decrees established certain books as acceptable parts of the Bible and disclaimed others.” Even today there are those who wish to restrict access to the Bible.

To learn more about banned books and the history of censorship, add “120 Banned Books” to your reading list. And for a more recent list of challenged titles, be sure to visit the American Library Association’s banned books web page at www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks. I’d like to end this column with a quote from Salman Rushdie, the author of “The Satanic Verses” and one who knows all too well the dangers of censorship: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”


Jan Johnston is the collection development coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.

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