| By Jason Everett |
Book banning, one of the oldest and commonly performed practices of censorship, has gone on for centuries. Governments, religious authorities, and other groups have banned books and other works of literature they deem to be offensive for one reason or another. These groups often initiate large-scale book bans.
With the invention of the movable type printing press in the mid-fifteenth century, Europeans suddenly had access to thousands of books. The Roman Catholic Church struggled to control the spread of information that directly contradicted its religious teachings. The church published its own book in 1559, Index Libororum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), that listed books judged by the church to contain dangerous ideas such as heresy. In 1616, the church added Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) in which Copernicus argued that Earth revolved around the sun, to the Index. The church abolished the Index of Prohibited Books in 1966.
More recently, small-scale book bans are often enacted by governing bodies, such as school boards, at the urging of concerned individuals. One example is the banning of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Although To Kill a Mockingbird is hailed by most critics as a rebuke of Southern racism in the mid-twentieth century, it has been the subject of challenges and bans on numerous occasions. A high school in Louisiana banned the novel in 1995 due to its racial content and use of profanity. In 2009, it was banned from a school in Ontario over its use of racial slurs. In 2017, a school district in Mississippi decided to remove the book from its eighth-grade reading lists.
Since 1982, the American Library Association (ALA) has sponsored Banned Books Week every year during the last week in September. This year, Banned Books Week is September 23-29. Banned Books Week is a celebration of banned and challenged books and is aimed at raising awareness of the importance of free speech. Throughout the celebration, people are encouraged to read banned books and express their constitutional right to enjoy whatever type of literature they choose. The ALA also publishes its list of the top ten challenged books, defined as an attempt to remove or restrict materials based on objections from a person or group. In 2017, To Kill a Mockingbird showed up as #7 on the list. The novel Thirteen Reasons Why, originally published in 2007, was the #1 book on the list. The book resurfaced after it became the basis for the Netflix television series 13 Reasons Why. The novel was banned and challenged in multiple school districts because of its depictions of bullying, sexual assault, and suicide.
Gale’s Student Resources In Context now features a Banned Books portal page to aid students in their research on the topic. Within the Banned Books portal, students can find information on the history of banned books, who bans books and why, Banned Books Week, and related topics including censorship and freedom of the press. The portal page includes a number of content types such as topic overviews, plot summaries, critical essays, periodicals, and podcasts, which allow students to build upon their knowledge and analyze various perspectives of the topic. Student Resources In Context also features portals on many banned and challenged books including To Kill a Mockingbird, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, Of Mice and Men, The Kite Runner, The Hunger Games and more!
Which banned book are you going to read during Banned Books Week?
Banner Image: Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association