Rebel Readers

In 1982, the U.S. first celebrated Banned Books Week during the last week of September. Over the last few years, the Hamilton Public Library and Colgate have collaborated to organize an annual Banned Books Readout, which was held on Monday, September 28. Heather Elias, Marketing Associate of the Colgate Bookstore, and Barb Coger, Director of the Hamilton Public Library, were responsible for this year’s program. Volunteers ranging from a Hamilton third-grader to Colgate junior Stephanie Zanowic, and from Colgate Assistant Professor of History Noor Khan to Hamilton Mayor Sue McVaugh, all read passages from their favorite books that have been banned.

To introduce the event, Kate Reynolds, General Book Buyer of Colgate Bookstore, welcomed the audience and Karen Fauls-Traynor, Director of the Sullivan Free Library and the Bridgeport Library, explained the purpose of Banned Books Week. Fauls-Traynor said that the program reminds us that books are still being challenged across the globe and referenced author Jo Godwin’s quote: “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”

The American Library Association (ALA) celebrates this week to raise awareness about banned books and to advocate the idea that novels on every subject from every perspective present readers with options; they do not force their views onto people.

Reynolds explained that anyone can challenge a book for any reason and the ALA maintains a list of all of the formally reported challenges of which there were 3,736 from 2001 to 2008. According to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, 31 percent of the challenges in 2008 were in classrooms, 37 percent in school libraries and 24 percent in public libraries, with small percentages in college classes or academic libraries. Parents, responsible for 51 percent of the reported challenges in 2008, are most likely to question a novel.

A common question that banning books raises is who has the right to determine what we can and cannot read.

“There are a variety of reasons to keep children away from books that are inappropriate to them, but that should be up to their parents,” Reynolds said.

Fauls-Traynor reiterated this belief when she said that individuals should be able to choose what they themselves read, but they should not be able to decide that for anyone else.

If we were unable to read any books that had ever been challenged, very little literature would remain. Among the novels read Monday night were classics from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Beloved, to books that have become so beloved such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Giver, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and In the Night Kitchen.

Without a variety of books, we would have fewer views to choose from. Reynolds said that she believes trying to prevent children from exposure to ideas is a mistake because one of the best ways to learn how to judge information is to read about various ideas and opinions.

Today, we often forget to consider reading a privilege and a freedom.

“People take for granted the access that they have to books and to all information,” Reynolds said.

The readout reminds us that it is a right and reminds us that novels are still constantly being challenged, mostly because of people’s fears. The only way to truly decide what is right and what you believe is to read and discover as many different perspectives and thoughts on the matter.

After another successful year, the Banned Book Readout’s future looks promising.

“As long as people are still challenging books, we will still need Banned Books Week,” Reynolds said.

With 513 reported challenges in 2008, it seems people will continue challenging books, either because of their sexual content, offensive language, inappropriate material, violence, homosexuality, anti-family messages or religious viewpoints.

Colgate first-year Patrick Weaver selected A Separate Peace by John Knowles as his favorite banned novel.

“[A Separate Peace] was banned for homosexual undertones and anti-war themes,” Weaver said.

No book is safe from a challenge. In 1989 the school district in Laytonville, California received a challenge against Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax because it “criminalizes the foresting industry.”

Contact Bridget Sheppard at [email protected].