When thinking of acts of rebellion, reading usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
It can be hard to think of people like my brother who can hardly wait to give people books or those who restock community Little Libraries as literary rebels, but they are. But why are they rebels?
Because even now, in 2021, we ban and challenge books.
Reading can be an act of rebellion.
This year Banned Books Week runs this year from September 26 through October 2, a time where book lovers and librarians alike discuss literature challenged for containing “inappropriate” content and celebrate the freedom to read.
The reasons as to why books end up on the American Library Association’s Banned Book List are numerous. Just the top ten books challenged in 2020 alone list LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, alcoholism, public outcry at authors’ platforms, content that discusses racism, and sexually explicit content as reasons why these pieces should be removed from readers’ grasps. Even though reasons change between years, sometimes the same books appear and reappear on the list.
But these challenged and banned books hold something special between their covers, something that needs to be celebrated and conversed about. These stories hold a way for us, as readers and people, to come together and explore ideas that we may not have otherwise been able to access. And, more importantly, these books often times allow those who have been silenced and marginalized to shout their truths to the world.
This year’s Banned Book Week theme is “Censorship Divides Us, Books Unite Us,” and in a world that is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need stories more than ever. We need more stories like All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, that talk about “too much sensitive matter” (yes, that is one listed reason as to why it was banned). We need stories like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which was challenged for its profanity and “was thought to promote an anti-police message.” We need stories like I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas, which was challenged for its inclusion of a transgender character and LGBTQIA+ content.
Censoring divides us by not allowing us to explore the full breadth of our complex reality. Reading unites us by removing those barriers. We all deserve to have our stories told, but we also deserve the chance to have our stories heard.
As Banned Books Week comes to a close on October 2, consider picking up a banned book. You can find a list of 2020’s (and all previous years’) most commonly challenged and banned books on the American Library Association’s website.
Read a banned book and be a literary rebel. Celebrate the freedom to read.
— Molly James (B.A. ’20, M.A. ’22)