It's Banned Books Week! Banned Books Week is American Library Association's annual celebration of the right to read. In this blog post, Tennessee Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee shares a few of its favorite challenged or controversial books.
A Friendship Crosses the Culture War Divide
Liberty "Libby" Hazlett's family isolates itself from most of the modern world, subscribing to a philosophy of "Christian patriarchy." The Hazletts' insular life is disrupted when hippie neighbors with a gender fluid daughter move next door. The disruption happens in slow motion though as stubborn dads go toe-to-toe. Tension both ideological and otherwise builds to a plot twist that guarantees outpouring of emotion. I went through a lot of tissues. Set in Tennessee, Quiver is a great book club selection for both teens and adults. Recommended for fans of The Handmaid's Tale, The Hunger Games, and (future fans?) of David Bowie.
Though Quiver received universal acclaim following its release, the author was disinvited to a Knoxville book festival when it was "discovered" that she also wrote erotica. For her trouble, Julia Watts was awarded 2019 Tennessee Library Association Intellectual Freedom Award.
- Bryan Jones, Nashville Public Library
A Story That Helps Victims of Sexual Assault
Freshman Melinda Sordino is shunned by her schoolmates because of a call she made to the police that broke up a summer party. She’s unable to discuss her trauma with anyone, including her parents, and throughout the year Melinda becomes almost nonverbal. However, a yearlong art assignment in Mr. Freeman’s class helps her to process the ordeal. The tree she struggles to draw eventually comes to symbolize the growth and healing she experiences, and her rapist is finally brought to justice when she finds her voice.
Published more than 20 years ago, Speak continues to strike a chord with those who’ve experienced sexual assault, and is still creating controversy. In 2020, the Laurie Halse Anderson-penned novel was named the fourth most banned and challenged book in the United States, rising from 60th since 2000, “because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity,” according to ALA.
In the 2006 edition, the author decried censorship:
“But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them.”
- Jennifer Castle, Tennessee State University
Books Fostering Anti-Racism
Some deride Banned Books Week because specific books are rarely, if ever, banned by legislative decree in the United States. But, having worked with Tennessee Library Association for a number of years, I can assure you that many books are challenged and these books are quietly removed from libraries. Many librarians are forced between speaking out about such censorship and losing their jobs, or keeping quiet. Though specific titles are not deemed illegal, sometimes entire categories of thought are. Exhibit A: HB 0580/SB 0623 which bans so called "critical race theory" from being taught in Tennessee schools.
This year's Banned Books Week honorary chair is Jason Reynolds. Depending on who you ask, Mr. Reynolds' most popular books are explicit in their critical take on race. I encourage everyone to, in the words of John Lewis, make good trouble and read Mr. Reynold's books. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is a great place to start, or the adult version that inspired it, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. As I sometimes cosplay as an adult, and that's only one I've read, my personal recommendation is the adult version.
- Bryan Jones, Nashville Public Library