Author: Margie Camarda and Amy Withey
Exhibits, speakers, readings and children’s art workshops were organized to celebrate this year’s annual Banned Books Week, which took place September 29 – October 6. Reading aficionados gathered in libraries, colleges and bookstores throughout the country to support a week that rejoices in the right to read.
Since 1982, The American Library Association (ALA) has annually celebrated Banned Books Week. According to their website, the week-long event “[celebrates] the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion, even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular, and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”
Historically, people have banned books for almost as long as they have been written. In the third century B.C., the Qing Dynasty in China used book burning-a term that refers to any deliberate destruction of “offensive” written works-as a tool to keep material that challenged religious or political norms from reaching the public. In the 2,000 years that have passed since then, book burning has been used all over the globe to obliterate controversial ideas.
According to the ALA website, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 546 reported challenges in 2006. People and groups “of all persuasions” have objected to literature containing “violence,” “offensive language,” “sexual content,” “homosexuality” and “anti-family” values.
The most challenged book of 2006 was And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. It is a story about a same-sex penguin couple raising a baby penguin, and is based on the true story of two penguins from the New York Zoo. This was one of the many books celebrated throughout the week.
In honor of the national event, The Occidental Library hosted a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows reading marathon in the Jeffers Room on Tuesday, October 2 – Wednesday, October 3. Students took turns reading the book aloud through the night in order to celebrate its constant controversy.
Oxy’s Instructional Services Librarian Marsha Schrirring organized the event. Rosalie Miletich (senior) attended the event and said she enjoyed reading five times throughout the course of the night.
In an ALA-hosted poll of readers’ favorite challenged books, the Harry Potter series won favorite controversial title with 1,490 votes out of more than 5,000. Accroding to the ALA, Harry Potter is the most frequently challenged book of this century with more than 3,000 attempts to remove it from schools and public libraries between 2000 and 2005.
The Oxy Library also set up an exhibit in the lobby titled “Shakespeare Censored!”, created by Nick Velkavrh (senior), a Mellon Grant Intern. The exhibit examines the differences between Thomas Bowdler’s Family Shakespeare, which is a sanitized, edited version of the plays of the 19th century, and Shakespeare’s originals. One passage from Othello was originally written as “I am one, sir, that comes to tell you, your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs,” and Bowdler changed this line to “Your daughter and the Moor are now together.” The exhibit also evaluates a study of the Merchant of Venice, one of the most banned plays in recent history.
Banned Books Week was celebrated not only here at Oxy, but also in Eagle Rock. The Eagle Rock public library hosted its own “Celebrate Banned Books” event on October 6 where kids were encouraged to talk about their favorite banned books and make banned-book-inspired arts and crafts.
Banned Books Week celebrations were designed to remind readers of the beauty in the freedom to express one’s opinion and the danger that accompanies the disruption of this right.
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