I think everyone has some sort of kinship to an event that takes place during the week of their birthday.
People born during the Christmas holiday end up with the name Holly, as one example. Others may find more delight in a favorite song hitting Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty on the day they were born.
For me, I love that I was born in the same week as Banned Books Week.
It all started when they threatened to censor my Stephen King
Around the time of my high school graduation, I attended a Vancouver school board special session at Clark College (a neutral meeting ground with lots of space for the expectation of a much larger audience).
The special session convened because the district was proposing the banning of several books from their library shelves.
This included at least one title by Stephen King. (Eye roll.) I was a huge fan of Stephen King but, as a writer and voracious reader, I was an even bigger fan of the First Amendment.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Stephen King title was ultimately banned, but a popular 70s sexual coming-of-age book with female protagonists by Norma Klein was (Love Is One Of The Choices). (Hat tip to Gumbo Pages for keeping records.)
My Libran leanings were not thrilled by this move to remove. And not because of Stephen King or Norma Klein. Because FREE SPEECH.
So I sat in on the proceedings, which allowed for written questions from the audience. I asked three and none of them were posed by the appointed audience filter. In fact, the whole meeting was a sham, and it spawned my first letter to the editor of both the Columbian and the Oregonian. And that spawned quite a few replies. Training for future trolling in social media?
I learned two things afterward while writing a paper in college about book burnings and bannings for a Constitutional Law class:
- My hometown has frequently earned the American Library Association’s dubious distinction as a frequent “censorship capital” in the US
- Banned Books Week was first established just a year before my attendance at that school board special session (1982)
Cornfields in Indiana?
When you cruise the annual ALA list of banned books, you find a lot of popular titles, to be sure. This year’s list, released on my birthday this week (always a gift!), was read and reviewed by the Washington Post critic Ron Charles.
But 2020 also brought a decade-long list of the most challenged titles 2010-2019 that’s worth taking a look at, if only to see just how much it gauges the styles of bigotry run rampant in this country.
When I looked at these titles, immediately they evoked the image I first gleaned while writing that paper in college:
of men in overalls, carrying pitchforks, standing around a large bonfire of the season’s spent corn cobs and stalks, chucking books into the flames like they were blocks of cured firewood
This, of course, happening somewhere/anywhere in Indiana, easily the most notorious censorship capital “frequent flyer” in the US.
Maybe that’s a stereotype. Or maybe it’s not. It’s still the image I see when I think of book burnings.
Some popular, even classic, titles you might see flying into that burn pile include:
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
- The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Wait! You’re thinking, didn’t they only burn books in Germany under Hitler’s Nazi regime (the ‘Bibliocaust,’ according to Time)? THINK AGAIN. And if you think it’s just a thing that happened in the past in the US, when people were “more ignorant,” THINK AGAIN. And AGAIN. And AGAIN. And AGAIN.
For your next required reading list, read this banned literature from BIPOC
If you look closely, you’ll see the list above is completely composed of white authors.
What about writers of color? BIPOC stands for black, Indigenous, and people of color, and these folks are also “well represented” (/S) on the decades list.
Looking for some fall reading? Let me do you the honor of suggesting the following banned books by BIPOC. Here are ten I’ve read and they’re fantastic, memorable, and relevant.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins