Be a rebel, pick up a banned or challenged book

Published 9:21 am Thursday, October 4, 2012

In case you didn’t know, this week (Sept. 30-Oct. 6) is officially “Banned Books Week”, an annual observance from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

The awareness week is meant to draw attention to “banned” and “challenged” books. The week is also meant to celebrate the First Amendment as well as the importance of the freedom to read.

Thirty years after its conception by First Amendment and library activist Judith King, “Banned Books Week” is often commemorated by libraries, schools and bookstores by hosting special events, exhibits and read outs.

The yearly event has even taken off globally through Amnesty International, which chooses to focus on history, people and countries where censorship has occurred or is continuing to happen.

Most can argue the majority of books are readily accessed through the Internet, bookstores, schools and libraries, and at most books in this country are mostly challenged rather than completely banned from shelves.

However, while reading over ALA’s most current list (2011) of “Frequently Challenged Books” I was surprised to recognize a few, including “The Hunger Games” trilogy for anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitivity, offensive language, occult/satanic, violent themes and even Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill Mockingbird” for offensive language and racism.

Yep, there it was “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which racial and social injustice is heavily highlighted in historical context and the core theme is about compassion.

I even saw one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie who, at best, can be described as controversial, but at the same time is raw, passionate and real with his writing especially when it comes to the historical and current struggles of Native Americans.

Looking back in history for those books banned and challenged you’ll find anything from The Bible to Maya Angelou’s “Why the Caged Bird Sings”.

I’ve never understood the idea of banning certain books from libraries, probably because I’m a self admitted book nerd who has seen how powerful literature can be.

I treat each book like I would a television show, a song on the radio or what I see on the Internet—if I don’t like it, I simply don’t read/watch/listen/browse.

But I also like to challenge myself. I like to think I have an open mind and strongly push myself to see the other side, the opposing view.

At best, literature can teach you about places, people, experiences and lifestyles you’ve never give a second thought about.

Everybody has an opinion, a viewpoint unique to their own life and beliefs. You do not have to agree with it, but at the very least you should respect it.

Classic books seem to be my current trend in reading. I decided after my trip to Amsterdam to re-read “The Diary of Anne Frank”. Perhaps, after I’m finished I’ll pick up “To Kill a Mockingbird” again.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.