October is Banned Books Month. The first week, October 1-7, is Banned Books Week. Am I sensing a theme here?
I started the first day of Banned Books Week with a New York Times op-ed titled This Is Why I Hate Banned Books Week, a recap of the tired talking points book banners spew forth every year about this time: there are no officially banned books in America, restricting access to books isn't banning because you can still buy them from Amazon, parental rights blah blah blah.
To which I spew back, as I do every year, that the intent behind restricting access to books is to keep people from reading them, or at the very least make it harder. Restricting access to books forces some people's idea of what should and shouldn't be read on everyone. That, per no less a source than Merriam-Webster, is well within the definition of banning.
If you follow the news, you know book banning has reached unprecedented levels in the United States, affecting not only school classrooms and libraries, but colleges and public libraries. Even publishers and book stores are feeling the heat. Not a day goes by without new stories of challenges to books and classroom materials, timid administrators and school boards caving to demands, angry parents and outside agitators disrupting board meetings, heavy-handed censorship attempts by local and state officials, and death threats against teachers, librarians, and authors.
Reports of book banning now routinely make the nightly news and the front pages of newspapers. You don't need my help to become aware of them. With that in mind, I'm changing the focus of You Can’t Read That! I'll be cutting back on news roundups, shifting instead to reading and reviewing banned books in the news.
I’ve been reviewing banned books all along, of course, and have published more than 70 reviews to date. But the news roundups? When I started tracking and linking to news reports of book banning, back in the early 2000s, I was one of only a couple of online voices doing so. Today, several book bloggers — joined by organizations like the American Library Association and PEN America — also offer book banning news roundups, more frequently and in greater depth than I can, and I feel I’m no longer contributing much with mine.
Reviews of the challenged and banned books behind the news, now, that’s a different story. My take on these books is often different from that of other reviewers, and here I feel I do have something to contribute to the fight against censorship and book banning.
This is a poster showing the top 13 banned books of 2022, prepared by the American Library Association for Banned Books Week (the reason ALA lists 13 rather than the traditional top 10 is that 2 titles tied for 5th place, with no less than 4 taking 10th). As an indicator of what I've been up to with YCRT! banned book reviews, I've read & reviewed no less than 9 of the 13. Some I’ve posted to the Readers & Book Lovers community on Daily Kos, but all are archived on my personal blog, Paul’s Thing (which is where these links lead):
I'll continue to monitor the news and link to stories highlighting important trends in the battle over book banning, but as indicated above, the main focus of You Can't Read That! will shift to banned book reviews and commentary. Please watch this space ... there's more to come!