Sunday, May 15, 2022

Banned Book Clubs

I am writing this just before we are heading to Miami for the university graduation of a grandson. I have had this fantasy of Governor DeSantis greeting us at the airport and at first, I thought I would spit in his face for his autocratic rule. Then I thought that may not be the most diplomatic thing to do!

Why not thank him for his banning books in his state’s schools. Why, you might ask. Simple answer: if you have ever had or interacted with children you know that there is no better way to motivate a child to do something than telling them not to.

I am sure you have read the HEADLINES:

The New York Times:
Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal:
More Than 1,000 Books Banned from Schools Since July 2021, Study Finds

Newsweek Magazine: 
Recent Surge in Banned Books Targets Titles, With Focus on Race, Sexuality

From the Miami Herald:
Banning Books in America is a Sorry Vote for Ignorance

Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald

I could go on and on. Thank goodness it has made so many headlines. People say to me that is not as extreme as burning books. True, but all the books could not be burned: a few always survived. There are so many issues regarding autocratic censorship but at this point, the backlash has resulted in ameliorations of the problem.

Did you know there has been a Banned Books Week since 1982? In 2022 the dates of the event will be September 18-24. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Book Clubs are nothing new, they have just had impetus from recent actions of state governments and parents who want to decide what students and the general population should read and learn. If you think about it there are so many people who want to tell you what is good and bad for you. But I won’t go down that rabbit hole.

Bookstores have started Banned Book Clubs. You might think that banned book clubs in bookstores have commercial motives but do not believe it. If you start a book store it is not to make a fortune but because you enjoy books and think it is an important contribution to the community and society in general. King's Books in Tacoma, Washington started a Banned Book Club a decade ago that has been meeting monthly ever since. Needless to say, it has garnered a lot more interest lately.

It is not just bookstores that have Banned Book Clubs. The American Library Association keeps lists of challenged and banned books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools. In 2021 there were 729 books on their list which a person or a group was trying to suppress and eliminate from public libraries. I am sure that list has grown since then and governments are one step away from that mostly addressing l libraries in schools.

Happily, individual libraries and librarians are at the forefront of keeping freedom to read what you wish alive and encouraging young people to learn history and societies priorities through reading. The Brooklyn Public Library is offering free digital library cards to young people ages 13 to 21 across in the U.S.

To my delight I now know that teens themselves are starting these clubs, not just to read the banned books but most importantly to discuss them. What better way to learn than by hearing what others think about what has been read? In-school clubs, however, need to be run by the students themselves without teacher involvement as teachers could be in danger of losing their jobs or worse. If you think I am exaggerating Governor Glenn Youngkin has set up a tip line for people in Virginia to report educators who are teaching critical race theory.

An encouraging example of a youngster taking things into her own hands is the story of a 14-year-old 8th grader, Joslyn Diffenbaugh. Learning about the efforts in Texas to remove some books from school libraries. She got together with her local bookstore the Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown, Pennsylvania and started their Banned Book Club which now meets every other week to discuss books that have been contested.

Progress depends on young people being curious and reading opens the world to them.

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