Alright, the 411: today marks the end of "Banned Books Week," the ALA's annual attempt to draw attention to itself. Admittedly it's an improvement over their normal routine of shushing everyone and charging overdue fees that would make Blockbuster cringe if Blockbuster were still a thing. (Out of curiosity, how many of my readers have actually rented from Blockbuster? How many ever had an account in their name at Blockbuster? How old do I feel right now?)
"Banned Books Week" might be the single most dishonestly named "pause for a cause" ever. First of all, none of the books on the list promoted by BBW are banned. None of them. Not a one. Instead they are "challenged books." What constitutes a challenge? Well, basically, it's "incidents people decided to report to the ALA." There's nothing scientific about it, and there's little in the way of fact-checking or publicly available record-keeping, which is odd for an association of fucking librarians. Is that not the majority of your job? This just proves my theory that the whole "library" concept is really just a front for shushing and fine-collecting.
A "challenge" usually means that someone petitioned either a library to remove a book from circulation or a school to remove it from a curriculum. The vast majority of libraries petitioned are primary school libraries. Petitions to both public and private institutions are included. Almost all challenges are about allowing or requiring children to read books their parents consider inappropriate. So a "challenge" includes everything from a religious nut trying to get the government to ban Harry Potter from all public schools and libraries to a parent objecting to the Kama Sutra being required 1st-grade reading at a private school. It would include someone arguing to replace 1984 with Anthem in an Honors English course, and it would include a liberal nutjob's effort to remove anything by a "dead white man" from the Library of Congress. It would include me trying to get Gatsby off the syllabus on account of it's fucking stupid and boring as shit. In other words, it says nothing about whether the challenge was legitimate or not.
Morally speaking, that a book was "challenged" means absolutely nothing. To then conflate "challenges" with "bans" is disgustingly dishonest. It corrupts the whole concept of freedom of expression in the worst way. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the list. What's at the top? Harry Potter. Perhaps the government of one of those sub-Saharan countries that occasionally burns witches has indeed banned the beloved fantasy series, but not a single Western government has in any way banned Harry Potter. We build theme parks for the kid, for Christ's sake! He's an industry unto himself, an estimated 5% of U.S. GDP (probably 99% for UK).
Now look at what's not on the list. Notice anything missing? You probably don't, so I'll just tell you: Mein Kampf. Yes, that Mein Kampf, the one written by Hitler. Mein Kampf is actually illegal to read or own in Germany, one of those Western "rights-respecting" nations you may have heard of, without a special permit from the government. Because "Never Again" apparently doesn't include book-burning and violent suppression of minority beliefs.
Aside from the conflation of legitimate challenges, illegitimate challenges, and actual bans, the list also does more harm than good because of its focus on frequency of challenges. That a book is frequently challenged means that it is frequently read. Those aren't the books you need to worry about defending. It's the ones that don't need to be challenged because they've already been set aside that are at risk. The ones that are never added to the syllabus in the first place, because they don't fit the accepted narrative. The ones the library never purchases, because they're "distasteful" and, well, no one's ever requested them anyway.
It's a bit late now, but I encourage to you all to say "Fuck you" to Banned Books Week, and, instead of picking up a book everyone's talking about, try one you've never heard and that no one recommends. It will probably suck, but at least you'll get to judge for yourself.
P.S. By the way, how do they decide what dates your cause gets? Is it a time-share thing? Are there turf wars? Does Lincoln's Birthday get along with Black History Month or do they have periodic rumbles over the issue? These questions need answering!