Books have always served an important function in the world: sharing culture, knowledge, and ideas, and of course, providing entertainment.
We all (most likely) know the name Johann Gutenberg ~ the storied inventor of the fabled printing press. Prior to his invention, books and reading were mainly the purview of the Christian Church. Specially trained monks copied religious and classical works in a scriptoria (writing room); “the compilation of comprehensive knowledge into a single document was considered a vital, even sacred endeavor”*.
Needless to say, that meant:
a) they controlled the books that were distributed, and
b) it was a painstaking process, and
c) books were very very expensive. And
d) not everyone could read, because why should they?
The story of the printing press is fascinating … A new historical novel that I’m in the midst of reading, Gutenberg’s Apprentice, delves into how he did so: he used a converted wine press, and created moveable lead type, and of course, didn’t do it alone. (But that’s a subject for another blog post.)
Did Gutenberg create the printing press because he was greedy, and saw the potential for profit? Was he a genius? A madman? Or a man intent on spreading knowledge?
I, for one, cannot say for certain sure, but I can get to the point of this post, what has drawn me out of my blogging dryspell to write: we do owe him a debt of gratitude for his role in delivering books unto us.
And we must note… despite how amazing it is that most of us can even read, let alone own and hold multiple books in our hot little hands…
…Today, 559 years after Gutenberg’s invention, some books are challenged or banned.
That’s right… some people don’t like other people’s words, so they want them to be banned. Because they are offended by something about it. So that no one else can read them. Like, ever.
Clearly, this is not a new thing.
Various books have been banned or challenged (asked to be removed) for a long, long time.
Per the American Library Association, Banned Books Week was started in 1982 to “to celebrate and defend the freedom to read.” (Be sure to check out the cool timeline on their site, and the list of Books that Shaped America on the BBW site.)
So, what are some of these horrible, horrible books that have been challenged, and frequently so?
- Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey. That’s right. The beloved series of silly books for kids has been challenged a number of times; it was the #1 most challenged in 2013 for “offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence”.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.
- The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler.
- Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling.
Except for Captain Underpants, I’ve read all of those books, and they all touched / moved / taught me stuff / made me think / entertained me in various ways.
Of course, Fifty Shades of Grey and the Twilight series have also been challenged, books that are not my cup o’ tea (sorry; can’t think of a non-cliché to use) and that I will never ever read. But I would never ever challenge anyone’s right to read them, much less try to get them removed from library or bookstore shelves.
As far as I'm aware I'm not specifically banned anywhere in the USA, and am rather depressed about it. Surely some of you guys can do *something?* -- (Terry Pratchett, alt.books.pratchett)
And so, my dear readers, I encourage you to read a banned book, or three. Or write one.
*quote from Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication, Pavlik, John V., and McIntosh, Shawn. 4th ed. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 2014.