This week the world celebrates banned books week, which runs from September 22 to 28th and seeks to celebrate the freedom for people to be able to read whatever they like, and to draw attention to the problems associated with censorship.
Banned books week first started in 1982 as an awareness campaign to draw attention to the banning and challenging of literature and books. One of the key elements that the organisers wish to draw attention to is promoting intellectual freedom in schools and libraries as well as “to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society”. Amnesty International also gets on board with banned book weeks by taking the opportunity to draw attention to people that are persecuted because of their writings, or the books that they choose to circulate or read.
The number of books that are challenged each and every year in the United States is a whole lot more than most people realise. In 2012 there were at least 464 formal complaints lodged by people seeking to remove books from the local libraries or schools. The number one most challenged book in 2012 was Dav Pikeys “Captain underpants” series, which was repeatedly challenged because of its offensive language and perceived unsuitability to its target age group. Other books that were frequently challenged last year include “50 shades of Grey” and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.
Over the years the literature that is targeted for banning has changed, but the reasons for them being challenged remain somewhat the same. The most common reason that people give when challenging books is because they contain sexually explicit content or strong language, with an estimated around 50% of these challenges started by a parent. Since 1982 there is been an estimated 11 a half thousand books that have been challenged for various reasons, though not just for sexual exploits and explicit language. For four years running the single most frequently challenged book in America was the Harry Potter series.
My personal favorite example of the absurdity of censorship is quite easily the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The famous dystopian science-fiction book was banned in the Soviet Union because of its perceived anti- Soviet themes, but many people don’t realise that it has also been challenged several times in the United States, famously in 1981 in Jackson County Florida where there was a move to ban the book for its pro-Communist themes.