Posted by: kshayes513 | September 27, 2009

It’s Banned Books Week

This week, September 26-October 3, is Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association. The ALA is one of this country’s most active and dedicated defenders of our right to read what we choose, without interference from those who want to “protect” us or our children from books, magazines or any other reading material that they find offensive.

You can find a lot more information about Banned Books Week events and how to participate (or object, if you must) at these two sites, and probably many others:

Superstition Review Blog: the blog of the literary and art journal of Arizona State University, whose post on Banned Books Week brought it to my attention. Thanks!

ALA/Banned Books Week: the home page of Banned Books Week

I was amused, on reading the comments on the Superstition Review’s post, to see that in this country, at least, anyone can be a censor from someone else’s point of view. Conservative and liberal commenters were each accusing the other side of censorship, and proclaiming their own party as the true defenders of free speech.

The reality is that we have very little censorship in the United States compared to many other places in the world. You may remember that when a Danish newspaper published some editorial cartoons portraying Mohammed, the government of Denmark suddenly had a huge diplomatic problem with the entire Muslim world. The Muslim countries and their citizens believed that the Danish government must have approved the cartoons. They simply couldn’t comprehend that any government not only didn’t control all the media in its country, but didn’t even have the right to control it. (I’m not at all slamming Islam, since many non-Muslim countries have the same situation; China, North Korea, and Russia for example; the Danish cartoons are simply a recent high profile example)

What we Americans usually call censorship is not government activity, it’s the actions of private citizens or groups trying to get books or other material removed from their local library or school or bookstore, because something about it offends them.

Do you want someone else to tell you what you and your family can or cannot read?

Now here’s a little fun for the worldbuilders related to censorship and free speechf:

In your world, how do groups, governments and individuals respond to ideas they don’t like?

If there is censorship, who does the censoring? Is it a government, a religious authority, a dominant intellectual or economic group? How do they justify their censorship? What are they really afraid of?

How does the authority find the content to censor? How do they punish those who transgress, and how do they remove the banned material?


  1. Even in the U.S. religous groups have been successful at banning books. Harry Potter is a recent one. So why was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger on a banned list? It’s ironic that Christians want to ban it because it’s really a book about a pure and innocent kid who is trying hard as he can to stay squeaky clean and innocent by maintaining disgust at the fallen adult world. That’s a Christian kind of sentiment.

  2. Very true. Depending on the cultural climate at any time, pressure groups have often managed to intimidate authorities into having books, TV episodes, movies etc removed from public circulation. But these are citizen pressure groups, not government authorities. In this country, most of those bans wouldn’t stand up to a First Amendment challenge. In many countries, the government does the banning, and there’s no appeal.

  3. And, to stir the mix a bit, some Christians maintain that public schools are censoring them when they don’t allow the Christian Bible to be read in the classroom. So in order to maintain separation of church and state, is our government engaged in censorship?

    This is one of the many reasons why I love being a librarian!

  4. I remember the uproar over R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. In my little world, this was the first incentive for my son (followed later on by Harry Potter) to become the voracious reader he is today. If you’re listening, R. L. Stine and J. K. Rowling, I just want to give you both a GREAT BIG THANKS for raising the bar and making reading interesting again for kids (and their parents). Incidentally, I read most of the first three Harry Potter books aloud to my children as bedtime story material “to settle the argument of who gets to read them first.” Truth be told, I wanted to read them for myself as well.

  5. Naturally, those two are just about the most popular children’s writers of this generation. Nobody ever tries to ban books that no one is reading. And, sweet irony, the surest way to make a book (or any other intellectual property) the center of attention is to try to get it banned or boycotted.

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