Staff librarians and professors gathered at noon to read their selections at the flagpoles in front of Anteater Square. Thirteen speakers gave their presentations with one sentence in common: “I read banned books.”
Mitchell Brown, a research librarian for chemistry, earth system science and Russian studies at UCI, was one of the chief librarians involved in planning this year’s Banned Books Week: Read Out, which is in its second year. The American Library Association (ALA) is celebrating its 28th year of Banned Books Week.
“Anytime someone closes a book, it closes their mind,” Brown said as he proceeded to read a passage from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” The novel was banned in Salinas, Steinbeck’s hometown, for a period of time.
Brown collaborated with Andrew Tonkovich of the University Council American Federation of Teachers, a union representing UCI librarians, in planning the event.
Other supporters of the event included Director of the Writing Program Jonathan Alexander, Associate University Librarian for Public Services Carol Hughes and ASUCI, which handed out pamphlets during Welcome Week encouraging students to attend.
The ALA states that books with sexual content (especially of homosexual content), explicit language, references to religious entities, violence and drug use, are the most popular reasons these books are challenged and deemed controversial.
Authors such as Maya Angelou and Judy Blume hold the record for number of books banned alongside popular writer J.K. Rowling for her positive portrayal of magic in the “Harry Potter” book series.
Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” an Oprah Book Club selection, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and a reading selection for this year’s Humanities Core Course at UCI, was one of the most highly-criticized books in 2006. Even Martin Hanford’s beloved childhood favorite “Where’s Waldo?” was challenged in the 1990s for having a partially exposed breast in a scene.
“You have the right to free speech, as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it,” said Brian Williams, a UCI librarian quoting the song “Know Your Rights” by The Clash.
“Banning books is not a new occurrence,” Tonkovich said. “People most often ban books to protect young people or ‘children’s minds’ or for violent or religious content they don’t agree with.”
Brown shared similar sentiments in his support for reading banned books.
“At the very root of what we do is free thought,” Brown said. “If parents are concerned with what their children are reading, they should talk to them. You don’t have to agree with a book, but it shouldn’t be ignored.”
When a book is banned, it is removed from circulation, usually for long periods of time, which reduces the availability of the book. When a book is challenged, however, the title is removed from a collection of novels, making the text still somewhat accessible.
“[These supporters of banning books] frequently go after books pretending that they are somehow protecting kids,” Brown said.
Some required readings for high school teens have proved to be highly controversial. Works such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger made the ALA’s Top 100 Challenged Books from 1990-2000.
“I never knew that so many books that I read were criticized so much,” said Thai-Han Nguyen, a first-year biological sciences major who passed by the event. “It’s kind of odd knowing that books that had such an impact on me while I was growing up were challenged for potentially corrupting children’s minds with ‘unsuitable material.'”
Brown ended the event with one major piece of advice: “Think freely, act freely, but most importantly, read out.”
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