September 27-October 3 is Banned Books Week, a week when librarians, teachers, booksellers, and other readers celebrate those books that have been banned or challenged over the years. When I hear that a book has been banned or challenged, I’m actually more likely to read it. Why? I’m not often one to start arguments, but I do like to understand both sides of them. And when one person takes it upon herself to deny an entire community access to something she finds “offensive” or “inappropriate,” I want to know what all the fuss is about. So, here are a few reasons to pick up a banned book this week (and any other time!).
- You will learn about people and situations outside your own experience. The majority of banned books are by or about people of color — voices which are already woefully under-represented in mainstream publishing. Take Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about a Native American teen who leaves the reservation’s school to attend a white public school. Or Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, about the friendship between to Afghan boys and the secrets that tear them apart. I’m not Native American, and I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and learn from these characters’ experiences.
- You will develop greater empathy for others. This is true with every book you read, but when you read books about people who are struggling with difficult situations (and books that contain violence, rape, hate crimes, or LGBT characters tend to be banned more often than lighter, happier books), you develop a greater understanding of what those around you might be going through.
- You will read something others have been kept from reading. Reading a banned book is like accessing a website that your school or workplace (or in some countries, your government) blocked. So not only do you access new information, you also get street cred for subverting the system.
Of course, there are many other reasons to read banned books. What are some of your reasons? And what are some of your favorite banned/challenged books? If you’re looking for suggestions, ALA has lists of frequently challenged books.