Banned Books Week is the venerable annual celebration of the right to read and the highlighting of efforts by cultural vigilantes of various sorts (but usually the Christian Right) to restrict or eliminate access to targeted works in public libraries and beyond. Although challenged books have, over the years run from Catcher in the Rye to Fifty Shades of Grey to the Bible, more typically, challenged books are by or about racial, sexual or religious minorities. And this year is no exception. Oh, except that the Bible made the list of the Ten Most Challenged Books of 2015.
Demands for certain titles to be removed from libraries and schools across the country is not a thing of the past. Last year, the American Library Association reported 275 instances nationwide in which books were formally challenged to be banned from libraries or school curriculums.
The ALA cites various reasons behind the ban attempts, ranging from concerns over sexual content to violence and offensive language. But after compiling a list of the most challenged books of 2015, officials at the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom noticed a pattern: nine of the 10 most targeted titles fell into the category of "diverse content," which the OIF has defined as "books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people."
Transgender issues feature prominently on the ALA's list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2015. "I am Jazz" and "Beyond Magenta," two books that share the real-life experiences of growing up transgender, were both on the top half of the list.
Religion, specifically books featuring positive portrayals of Islam, was also a cause for concern among some would-be banners, according to James LaRue, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. The graphic novel "Habibi" received multiple calls to be banned from libraries across the country.
The ALA explains:
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice.
The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restrictions in libraries and schools. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the Banned Books Week celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens only thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.
There are many things we all can do. In addition to buying and reading banned book, we can use Banned Books Week graphics in social media -- available as free downloads. We can attend any of the thousands of events across the country at libraries, bookstores and colleges. There are also lots of things that can be done on social media. We can, as I did for example, add a Twibbon to your Twitter profile pic, which states "I Stand for the Right to Read." Not too hard. And not too controversial -- unless of course, you want to restrict or eliminate the right to read. And as we see every year, too many of us actually do.