I read banned books

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Every year, I celebrate the return of fall not with apple cider or football games, but instead with a nice, juicy read. The badder, the better. Preferably banned — or at least challenged.

I’ve always been an avid reader, staying up past my bedtime as a kid and still as an adult, but I never really thought about my right to read until I started working at the First Amendment Center and observed my first Banned Books Week. In 1998, I decided I would read a banned book every year just because I live in a country where I can.

It also prompted me to read new works and re-read old favorites. I started that first year with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a classic that I could just kick myself for not reading in high school. Year after year, every September, I’d seek out titles from the most-challenged lists: The Color Purple, the entire Harry Potter series, The Lovely Bones, Brave New World, The Catcher in the Rye, Where the Wild Things Are and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

This year, I let Nashville Mayor Karl Dean pick my book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is both a challenged book and the first title chosen in the new Nashville Reads citywide book club. Mayor, you made a good choice. It was even better the second time around.

My relationship with edgier material used to be pure — I believed we should read whatever we want, whenever we want. Then I had children.

I must admit I squirmed when my 10-year-old son brought home The Hunger Games last year.  I had read the series, anticipating my kids would want to read what everyone else was raving about, but thought it a little too violent for my pre-teens. Then I remembered my own childhood and the fact that my mother never censored my reading material, and in fact encouraged me to read anything and everything.  She was probably just happy that if I was reading, I was staying out of trouble. I try to remember that lesson when my own kids giggle as they read Mad magazine under the covers, past their bedtimes. I was once that child, but I think I preferred Cracked.

My children are voracious readers, all known by name at our local library branch. They’ll be there on Oct. 6, participating in a Banned Books Week event by reading aloud from the first Harry Potter book. I’ll be there, probably videotaping them and definitely beaming with pride.

But enough about me: What are you going to do for Banned Books Week? The 30th annual celebration is Sept. 30 — Oct. 6. Below are some resources to get you started.

Banned Books Week

Frequently challenged classics

American Library Association’s Banned Books Week page

Bookmans video for Banned Books Week Virtual Read-out

Mapping censorship

Also see: Banned Books Week: defending our freedom to read

Whoopi Goldberg joins Banned Books Week read-out

Blogger defends Banned Books Week

Banned books


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