Photo by Charles Hackley on Flickr.com

Too many Americans don’t read. About one in four haven’t read a book in the last year, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey.

Not reading causes harm. It disengages people from thoughts, words and deeds. Those who don’t read miss out on lots of new things, entertainment and knowledge. And frankly, they’re probably not continuing to learn.

Reading isn’t always easy or comfortable. But it frequently expands horizons — so much so that people who want you to not question authority or the status quo often want to ban books to keep you from being exposed to fresh ideas, different perspectives and alternatives to how most people live. Just look at the mess going on now across Florida.

Later this month, the book community will recognize Banned Books Week to celebrate our freedom to read. This year’s theme:  “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Take a look the 10 most challenged books from 2021, according to the effort:

  1. Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe. Reasons: Banned, challenged and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images.
  2. Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison. Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.
  3. All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson. Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and profanity and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.
  4. Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Perez. Reasons: Banned, challenged and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.
  5. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and violence and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.
  6. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term.
  7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women.
  8. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit.
  9. This Book is Gay, by Juno Dawson. Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated and restricted for providing sex education and LGBTQIA+ content.
  10. Beyond Magenta, by Susan Kuklin. Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.

See anything  that links these books, like maybe sex? Think there’s a group, maybe a political group, that doesn’t want you to read about subjects that highlight sex or things related to people who may not identify as the majority? Think of anything that banning these kinds of books might cause, like a reverse reaction?

Hint: When narrow-minded ideologues try to ban something from the general population, the kids (and adults) they’re trying to protect figure out a workaround. They may, for example, apply for a free library card from the Brooklyn Public Library so they can read what they want without self-righteous censors trying to control their local libraries.

Lots of incredibly popular books have been banned at one time or another.  I, for one, am better off for reading some of them:

  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell, teaches about the danger of political indoctrination.  Orwell reportedly wrote it to help children understand the dangers of anti-freedom reeducation camps, like ones we have seen in Russia and China. 
  • Orwell’s 1984 highlights the danger of a society where you’re not allowed the freedom to think or make choices. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s classic work on racism, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Good. Perhaps seeing the injustice of a racist system will make them reconsider their behavior, opinions and customs.

So here’s a challenge to non-readers: Read a banned book. Learn about a different perspective. But watch out. It might make you think outside of your comfort zone.  

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Charleston City Paper.  Have a comment?  Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.

This story also appeared in Statehouse Report.


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