Reading Contraband…or How I Spent Banned Books Week

Did you see the trending topic this week on Twitter or some other social media website? Did you know it was Banned Books Week, a moment when we celebrate the books that someone has told us are dangerous or dirty? I did. I spent all week referencing the list of books that have been banned for this reason or that over the years.

If you’re not familiar with Banned Books Week, you might be surprised by some of the titles on the list.

Classics like Catcher in the Rye and Slaughterhouse Five are there along with books that have the dubious distinction of being listed as the Most Challenged Books of 2010. This year’s include both The Hunger Games and Twilight et al.

I didn’t always get why books were banned.

Okay, to be honest, I still don’t. I mean, the world is a scary place and a lot of the most scary things are represented right there on prime time television on a nightly basis so what’s the point of banning a book because it features sex or violence or what someone considers “questionable morals”?

I question the morals of the person who questions the morals of someone else, personally.


Did I just question myself?

I think I officially just wrote myself into a corner.


There’s a lot to read out there that other people will look at you funny for.

I personally like to see what I can get the best looks for reading. So far, the most commentary I have gotten was for reading Star Wars (not the serials but the novelization of eps 4-6). It’s not even a banned book but the looks I got – and the same question over and over again – make it noteworthy.

Yes, I read the novelization of the movies. Suck it up and deal, World. I love the movies and it made me want to read the book.

I also got a lot of looks for Game of Thrones but I’m not ready to talk about that one yet. I think it permanently scarred my retinas and my soul.

Of the books on the ALA’s list of Banned or Challenged Classics, I’ve read 13 of them. And I have never been judged for it. In fact, if my friends and family are going to judge me for anything, it’s for the fact that I’ve only read 13 and not all 46.

I think that my goal for the next year will be to knock my total up to 20 and to read as many of the books on this year’s list of Most Challenged as I can tolerate.

I like to thumb my nose at the people who say I shouldn’t read something because of the sex or the violence or the alternative lifestyles.

And the people who tell me I shouldn’t read something because it’s racist or homophobic? I think they’re a little blind. I read that stuff – and other people should too – because it reminds me that judgement and discrimination and horrible acts of violence have been committed against innocent people – and in the not-so-distant past. If we don’t learn from history, I fear its repetition.

Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

And frankly, your denial of this history or of these acts, just makes me think you are a little bit blind. Do you not watch the news?

I hope you celebrated Banned Books Week in some fantastic way. Maybe you bought a book that would make your mother squirm. Maybe you snapped a picture of the Banned Books Week shelf at your local bookstore or library like I did.

Or maybe you walked right by it and didn’t even notice. Because the titles that it featured have been so canonized by their banned status that you read them all in high school…a girl can only hope, right?

Image: The Banned Books Week shelf at my local indie bookstore, Jabberwocky Bookshop.

  • Astrid Lund

    I loved this post! I had no idea that this week even existed! I shall definitely look these up. Which ones did you read on this list?

  • Angela Patrice Keating

    I was really upset when I realized that I’ve only read 9 of the books on the list, however was pleased when I realized I had already planned on reading 21 other books on the list, not realizing they were banned.

  • Cija A. Jefferson

    I especially felt you when you mentioned how editing the books to be pc woud be a denial of history. I’m sure you heard how recently there was a campaign to edit all the N-words out of Huckleberry Finn, clearly I’m not a fan of the word, but I loved the book in its original form and wouldn’t want to read it any other way…I could go on a tangent about attempts to rewrite history but I’ll stop right here:-)

    • Rachael Berkey

      I’ve been hunting for cool editions of Twain novels since I saw that push to rewrite them. While I hate that word, never use it myself, I stand by the principle that you can’t rewrite history and still learn from it. So I will look for interesting editions and hope I never have to pull them out and say to someone, “I bought these before they published the edited editions.”

    • Alan Howell

      Huckleberry Finn is, in my opinion, that mythical Great American Novel. To edit it would be a crime against mankind.

  • Laura E

    awesome bookstore name !! Love the article, it fits perfectly since I am in this library program right now :)

  • Tiffany Harris

    I haven’t read all of the banned books, either… and my family would probably judge me for that, as well! I think it’s interesting that a lot of these ‘contraband’ are considered classic fiction in America – The Great Gatsby, 1984 and The Catcher in the Rye, for instance.
    I may have to read some of the others on the contraband list. I’ve been on a bit of a war novel kick lately – I just finished “Top Secret Flight” by Dale Cox ( about WWII. I think Capote’s “In Cold Blood” may be my next read!

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