Tonawanda News

September 26, 2013

KEPPELER: Read it -- because you can

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Editor’s note: This column originally ran for Banned Books Week on Sept. 30, 2010.

Read a banned book this week.Go ahead. I dare you. You have four more days until the end of Banned Books Week, but that’s more than enough time to start something, even if you finish it next week or next month. (Or next year. Who’s counting?)

I’m going to reread “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which holds the honor of being not only being one of the top novels of the 20th century (according to Radcliffe Publishing Course), but also one that’s frequently targeted for challenges due to its language and its accurate depiction of the racism of the time. (Because, of course, if we never talk about it, it didn’t exist. Right?)

In one New York state district (in 1980), it was called a “filthy, trashy novel.” (Which probably made that many more students determined to read it.) In 1996, another district banned it because it “conflicted with the values of the community.” (Which makes one wonder just what those values are ... or if those challenging had really read the book.)

Whatever. It’s one of my favorites, and one that I think has made generations think about their world and the people in it just a little bit differently. That’s what good books do, after all — whether they’re American classics or light entertainment, I’m a fair believer that every book leaves a little bit of itself behind.

Other friends of mine plan to re-read the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle or “1984” by George Orwell. There’s a lot to chose from. Just since 2001, the American Library Association reports that U.S. libraries have faced 4,312 challenges.

That’s a lot of reading material. A lot of ideas.

A lot of ideas someone else doesn’t want you to see.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by a number of entities, including the ALA and the American Booksellers Association and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. According to the ALA website, the event is meant to celebrate intellectual freedom — “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular.”

You can find out more at www.ala.org/bbooks, including a copy of banned and challenged classics and yearly lists of books that happen to cross someone narrow-minded’s radar. This past year, it ranges from Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” to Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” books to — yes — the “Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.”

Why?

Someone didn’t like the ideas in them. Someone didn’t like the words in them. Someone didn’t like the inclusion of the term “oral sex.” (Yes, in the dictionary.)

Someone, for whatever reason, thinks you can’t make these decisions, to read or not to read, on your own — for yourself and for your children.

And that should really tick you off.

Pick a book. Pick up a copy of “Twilight.” Pick up a copy of “The Great Gatsby.” Pick up a copy of “In Cold Blood.” And read it.

Read it because you live in the United States, and we still have that wonderful First Amendment thing going on.

Read it because you can.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.