>>Because we live in the United States of America, we take many things for granted: access to clean water, an education, and to all the reality television one can desire.
We keep up with the Kardashians, put toddlers in tiaras, and wife swap. We are Americans! It is our right to voyeurism! If other people don’t want to watch it, they can turn off their television, but no one has the right to take away our Sister Wives .
For some reason, though, when it comes to reading, people suddenly think they have the right to limit what others read. When offended, they don’t just close the book, they seek to take it out of schools, public libraries, and bookshelves everywhere.
And that is why it necessary to celebrate our right to read.
September 27th – October 3rd is >>Banned Book Week . Promoted by the American Library Association, the week “highlights the values of free and open access to information” and “draws national attention to the harms of censorship.”
I love Banned Book Week because I love books and reading is one of the top ways to experience different histories, lives, cultures, and ideas. Sure, I can get some of that (even the sordid aspects) from watching the Duggars and their nineteen kids, but authors help me accomplish those experiences better, in a classier fashion, and with intent.
So, if you want to celebrate your right to read and women authors, here are some recommendations relevant to our current realities:
>>The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: One of my all time favorite books, it is so important that you read it now when politicians are on the rampage to reduce women’s reproductive rights. Atwood tackles religious fanaticism, nuclear destruction, and women’s oppression while giving us some of the most beautiful descriptions of everyday life that I’ve ever read.
>>The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Through Pecola Breedlove, a young, ugly, African-American girl, we see how our stereotypical views of beauty can tear a person apart. Morrison’s poetic yet simple sentence structure and child narrator belie dark topics: racism, incest, poverty. Number four on the list of banned or challenged books for 2014, it makes us confront what is ugly within ourselves. It is often banned or challenged for being “unsuitable for age group,” but high schoolers need to confront these issues.
>>Fun Home by Alison Bechdel: Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir of coming of age and coming out explores whether her father’s hidden sexual identity had any bearing on who she would become. The memoir has been challenged several times at the postsecondary level. Most recently, >>a group of students at Duke University caused national attention by refusing to read it (though I don’t believe they pushed to have it stricken from campus). One of the best memoirs I’ve read, freshman year of college is the perfect time to read this story. Fraught with literary allusions, metaphors and connections to political events, and clearing out those closet skeletons, Fun Home has challenging and comforting moments, just like your first year away from home should.
>>To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: You’ve probably read this sentinel text, but give it a re-read. Not only is it part of the canon of American literature, but it will also refresh your memory so you can read Lee’s sequel Go Set a Watchmen. See how your favorite character’s have evolved and prepare to have your heartbroken —not just by Atticus’s racist views. It’s an important time, in regard to race relations, to read both novels. They will give us a picture of where we have come from and where we are going as a society.
The next banned/challenged book I’m looking forward to reading? >>The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. While she was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer, Lack’s cells were removed and used for scientific research, responsible for many medical breakthroughs. However, all of this was done without Lacks’s consent. Recently, this book has been challenged on the grounds that its discussion of women’s reproductive systems is pornographic. It’s been on my “must read” list for awhile, but what better time to exercise my right to read it than during this week.
What banned or challenged books will you be picking up?
Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Pornographic – – must be in the eye of the beholder. Thanks for alerting us of it’s banned status. Glad you will read this. This story is about a breakthrough in science and consequently the ethics of informed consent. The topic of HeLa cells is pertinent to the discussion of use of human/fetal tissues that has been so distorted by the recent Planned Parenthood video. Distaste and squeamishness is both an alert to guide humane behaviour as well as a barrier to scientific and cultural development.
Great Job, Jennifer. Your points about banned books are well-taken. It’s hard to believe anyone would ban books like “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye.” Often, people fear what they do not understand, and those people seem to understand little. For some people, the world is a scary place, and for others it is a joyride. I’m glad that you are joyous.
As usual Jen, the subject matter and your reflections upon it are important. Part of what makes reading marvelous is the fact that books bring out a wide variety of emotions, and challenge us intellectually. Just reread To Kill A Mockingbird and read Go Set A Watchman. Both Harper Lee books are important culturally and as pure literature. They should be on everyone’s bookshelf.