It’s Freedom to Read week here in Canada.
For anyone who loves words, or the arts in general for that matter, this is a very important week.
It’s important because this is the week we celebrate books that have either been challenged or banned for sale/use/reading in libraries, school and bookstores across the country.
For the last 32 years Freedom to Read week has been organized here in Canada by the Book and Periodical Council as a way to remind people, both readers and non-readers alike, that even in this day and age, books still come under attack all the time.
Freedom to Read week is the Canadian literary world’s way of making sure that we don’t forget these attacks, no matter how trivial they may seem.
Among the things that the Book and Periodical Council puts together to celebrate Freedom to Read week is their Challenged Works list, a list of more than 100 books, magazines and other written material that has been challenged or banned over the years.
The difference between a challenge and a ban is that when a book is challenged, someone is trying to get it removed from somewhere. A ban is when that book is removed from somewhere.
The interesting thing about this list is the sheer number of classic books that are on there.
Books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird, for instance (challenged because of their use of racially charged language and situations).
Of Mice and Men was challenged because it was considered “irreligious.” Even more surprising than the number of classics on the list are the number of books aimed at younger readers.
Dr. Seuss is on the list. Bruce Coville, who many will remember as the man behind the “My Teacher is An Alien” books, made the list for a book about dragons because, like the Harry Potter books, it promoted magic and New Age religions.
A book about the ABC’s made the list because it was felt the book wasn’t appropriate for the age group.
I was even amused to discover a book by my friend and mentor, the late Paul Kropp was on there because (again) the book contained situations that were considered inappropriate for the age group.
Most of these challenges and bans have been challenged themselves in an attempt to stop people from getting these books pulled from the shelves and it’s important that there are those out there who are fighting this battle.
Most of these books were challenged by people who felt they weren’t appropriate by their standards (and likely the standards of their peers, as well.)
This is fine. I’m not saying you can’t feel that way. If I’m saying anything at all here it’s that just because something bothers you, doesn’t mean it bothers other people.
Trying to get the offending material removed from a place others can access it isn’t helping anyone besides yourself.
You’re free to believe or read anything you want, but it’s not anyone’s place to decide what I feel is appropriate for me to read or my kids (in fact, I’ll have no issues letting my daughter read pretty much whatever she wants).
But, whether we like it or not, these challenges are going to happen.
Thankfully, we have things like Freedom to Read Week, and those who organize it, to help keep books in the hands of people who actually want to read them. For more information visit the Summerland library or http://www.freedomtoread.ca/ and find yourself a controversial book to read.
Douglas Paton is a Summerland writer and musician. If you know of a local arts and culture event, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.