Was Banned Book Week invented by the American Library Association (ALA) as a way of using reverse psychology on reluctant readers? Don’t laugh. I can see why a book listed as ‘subversive’ might be an attractive read for an adolescent. Earlier this month, I read USA Today contributor Jonah Goldberg’s opinion piece Column: Banned Book Week is just hype. Goldberg argues that what the ALA terms “banned” are really “challenged” books.
“For starters, as a legal matter no book in America is banned, period, full stop (not counting, I suppose, some hard-core illegal child porn or some such out there). Any citizen can go to a bookstore or Amazon.com and buy any book legally in print — or out of print for that matter.”
He goes on to point out that the number of challenged books is down from an average 400-500 a year to just 348 last year which is the equivalent of having less than one parent for every 200 public schools or 100,000 students even registering a challenge at all. Goldberg is all for encouraging reading in young people but wonders about Banned Book Week’s less desirable themes.
“As an educational enterprise, it denigrates the United States as a backward, censorial country when it’s anything but. It demeans parents and other citizens who take an interest in the schools. And it attempts to elevate the judgment of professional librarians to unimpeachable heights — the same librarians who’ve sometimes pushed to allow nearly unfettered access to porn in public libraries. Fighting mythical censorship with real propaganda hardly seems like a worthwhile trade.”
I personally like Banned Book Week and all the hoopla surrounding it. For one, it gets students, parents, libraries, and schools on the same band wagon…your First Amendment rights as an American citizen. And consider this, taken from a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) compendium titled To Read or Not to Read.
“Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nineteen percent in 1984 to nine percent in 2004. On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.”
photo via The Lisa Simpson Book Club