My son and I were sitting in the coffee shop outside the airport terminal before crossing through the security checkpoint. When I unzipped my backpack to get my wallet he saw my copy of Adolf Hitler’s, Mein Kampf. This was in 2014, two years before the copyright held by the Bavarian Government expired and the entire text made it to reprint challenging German Law.
“Uh, you’re going to attract attention to us when we go through security,” he said.
“They’re going to think we’re Nazi worshipers. It’s banned in Germany.”
He was a freshman in high school at the time and although I was impressed with his knowledge of what banned books meant I was distraught by his concern for reading Mein Kampf.
“Or maybe they’ll think that I’m intrigued by the very idea that we place blame onto Hitler and not of the supporters who allowed him so much power,” I said. “Which is why I’m reading it.”
I remember our conversation quite vividly. “No one can take our freedom to read,” I told him. “You have the human right to educate yourself and the first amendment to protect you in doing so. It should never be dictated for you.”
The first banned book in America was New English Canaan, written by Thomas Morton and published in 1637. He wrote about Native Americans and their battle against the Puritans for the cultural soul of the new world.
This was only the beginning. Books would continue to be banned across the world due to questionable topics such as race, sex, religion, profanity, anti-government and violence. Banned Book Week was first recognized in 1982 when a surge in books became controversial in schools, libraries and bookstores.
According to the Short List some of the most famous books in history have been banned across the world. The Bible was banned for 30 years from 1926- 1956 in the USSR and in Ethiopia in 1985.
My favorite novella Animal Farm, written by George Orwell and published in 1945 is still banned in Cuba, China, United Arab Emirates and Kenya to this day.
Each year banned books fall off the list while others are added on.
When I received the Sunday edition of our local newspaper I was surprised to see no mention of Banned Book Week especially because the Gazette has a section titled, Books and Insight devoted to the creative writing and literature community. I was also surprised to see the New York Times had no mention of Banned Book Week in neither their Learning Network or Book Section.
I live 40 miles from the nearest city but have a library card to utilize the Iowa City Public Library virtual library for research. Iowa city is also the central hub to The City of Literature. I was disappointed to see the library had nothing in relation to Banned Book Week on their virtual library website and even more disappointed The City of Literature had no information on their website either.
In a country that prides themselves on freedom- Iowa City and Seattle are the only cities in the United States that are members of the Creative Cities Network with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), yet from what I can see Iowa City provides little representation for books banned past and present.
I believe in the value of books and what they stand for; history, education, culture and freedom slowly dissipate.
As I approach the entryway I feel pride and admiration. Though the tiny library has limited resources and the town itself is three square miles wide, mostly made up of farmland it’s a much needed reminder books are still in the heart of America.
They’re promoting patrons to read banned books with various raffles and a free showing of the 1963 film adaption of Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding. It’s a book that’s been banned in schools over the years since being published in 1954. They also have a town wide scavenger hunt planned at the end of the week.
The banned book theme for 2018 is censorship, an intriguing choice of theme given our constitutional right to freedom of speech.
The United States flag is our foundation for freedom yet it was sewn and stitched in 1776 by a woman who didn’t have the right to vote, Betsy Ross. I learned this by reading the book Betsy Ross and The Making of America, written by Marla R. Miller.
I left with a copy of The Bluest Eye, written by Toni Morrison. This book has been both challenged and banned in high schools across the country since it was published in 1970. It has been removed from school curriculum and challenged by the Department of Education due to sexually violent content.
As I turn each page I’m grateful to have this freedom and to live in a town that recognizes it. It’s up to us. If we don’t exercise our freedom we risk it either being taken away or fading away.
“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another- physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.”
- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
What are you reading for Banned Book Week?