Censorship of the written word is nothing new. For the past 2,000 years, critics have scrutinized some of the best-known and most revered books. For example, in 1525, 6,000 copies of William Tyndaleʼs English translation of the New Testament were printed in Germany, and smuggled into England where they were burned by the English church. Church authorities were determined that the Bible would be available only in Latin.In 1788, Shakespeareʼs “King Lear” was banned from the stage until 1820 because of a reference to the insanity of the reigning monarch, King George III.
And, in 1983, members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of “The Diary of Anne Frank” because it was “a real downer.” It was also challenged for offensive references to sexuality.
This week is Banned Books Week, an effort by booksellers nationwide to ﬁght against censorship. From Sept. 25 through Oct. 2, more than 4,000 independent booksellers and libraries will participate by setting up window displays in their stores and by handing out pamphlets that feature information on some of the more popular banned books.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Banned Books Week was ﬁrst sponsored in 1983 by the American Booksellers Association and the American Libraries Association in order to educate the American public about their First Amendment Freedoms.
“The ʻHarry Potterʼ series has just been challenged,” said SSI Bookstore Assistant Manager Shirley Hyatt. “They will be featured in our window display this year.”
“It is so evident that these people havenʼt read those books,” said Melissa Smith from the Chester County Book and Music Company. “The books have something to do with witchcraft, but good always conquers evil in the end.”
Several books on the list were, at one point, on required reading lists for many school districts across the nation. Books such as Lois Lowryʼs “The
Giver,” Mark Twainʼs “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and, most recently, Harper Leeʼs “To Kill a Mockingbird,” were pulled from reading
lists in the West Chester Area School District.
“Leeʼs insights into the impact of prejudice on society ring as true today as they did when the book was ﬁrst published,” said Susan Moore of the Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma. “In our societyʼs current climate, her lessons are all the more welcome and refreshing.” “Judy Blume is one of the authors with the most banned books,” Smith said. “Yet she recently won a National Book Award. What people donʼt realize is that when you censor a book, it automatically becomes extremely popular,” she continued. “There are hundreds of books published that we donʼt agree with, but we donʼt pull them off the shelves.”
“We have a book called ʻAm I Blue?ʼ which focuses on homosexuality, and it is on the banned list,” Smith said. “But these short stories are not just about being gay; theyʼre about promoting an understanding of it as well.
“When you ban books, it discourages imagination and stiﬂes creativity. It closes off minds,” Smith added. “[The SSI bookstore] participates
in Banned Books Week because we agree with the First Amendment,” Hyatt said. “People should be free to read whatever they like.”
Smith agreed with her: “These books challenge issues, and [banning them] teaches people that if you donʼt challenge issues, then there wonʼt be a problem.”
This yearʼs Banned Books Week has a special focus on the U.S. Patriot Act, which was passed in 2001, just after Sept. 11. The act gave the FBI power to collect information about the library borrowings of any U.S. citizen. It also empowered the federal agency to gain access to library patronsʼ logons to Internet Web sites.
“The ACLU of Pennsylvania maintains that democracy requires a free and informed public,” said Julia Richardson, the Legal Program Assistant of the Pennsylvania branch of the ACLU. “This yearʼs Banned Books Week will be an exciting opportunity to ﬁght censorship and share in the support of the First Amendment,” she said.