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Opinion

Week encourages reading of controversial material on banned books list

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September 27, 2013

Many students may not realize that numerous novels that they have read for class are on the Banned Books List.

The last full week of September marks Banned Books Week in the United States. It is an annual awareness campaign to celebrate the freedom to read even books that are considered to have “unorthodox viewpoints.” While it may be hard to find a good time to read for fun during the school year, it is valuable to pick up a banned book and get caught in the world of literature.

Judith King founded Banned Books Week in 1982. King was a prominent First Amendment and library activist. She and others believed that books should not be restricted from the public just because they do not represent each and every person’s opinions. She wanted people to experience different types of literature, regardless of theme or plotline.

Books with unpopular viewpoints can still be obtained by the public, giving readers the freedom to express their own conclusions and opinion on a certain book. Numerous groups support Banned Books Week, including the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation and the Association of American Publishers.

Banned Books Week has been held the last week of September since it was founded. Schools, libraries and bookstores do their part to make banned books available to everyone and support intellectual freedom in examining challenging literary works.

This special week teaches people to protect their First Amendment rights and not let strenuous restraints keep them from experiencing the power of literature and what they can learn from it.

Many activists fear that the restraints imposed within literature go against the United States as a free society. Many schools around the country set out displays and programs pertaining to these banned books.

Bookstores put up window displays and may even invite authors of banned books to come speak at their store, or hold essay contests about the freedom of expression. Another fun activity that bookstores hold is “read-outs,” where participants are encouraged to read a favorite passage from a banned book.

Internationally, Amnesty International turns their focus to authors that have been killed, incarcerated, or harassed because of their “unpopular” contributions to literature.

They encourage everyone to take action, in part with the Urgent Action Network, to help authors whose rights have been violated. Amnesty International also provides updates on previously mentioned authors who had been persecuted in the past. These countries include, but are not limited to, Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt.

You may be surprised to hear various famous works of literature that made their way to the Banned Books List. Some books include the “Harry Potter” series, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” all of which dealt with controversial topics. I was surprised to see these books on the list, since I have grown to love most of them. The reasons for being added to the banned books lists seem rather meaningless.

There is no doubt that many people may be shocked that this Banned Books List exists, as it does indeed violate the reader’s rights. A book is what you make of it; literature should be examined, celebrated and not looked down upon. I challenge every student at UW-River Falls to pick up at least one banned book within the next few months. You never know, you could find your new favorite book.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.