The book ban dates back centuries, but today – although its effects are not usually popular – it is designed to keep students’ safety and emotional well-being in mind. However, most people are against this form of censorship and it extends not only to books but to other forms of literature and teachings.
On March 30, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom released a photo of him reading the book Beloved by Tony Morrison alongside a host of other classics such as Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984’. He attacked the states that imposed book bans because they appeared to be “afraid” of those books.
Newsom received some positive feedback, while other angry Twitter commenters and political opponents spoke out not only about his blatant abuse of his political career, but also the hypocrisy of his actions when his state – California – banned some of those books.
As early as late 2020, a handful of books, like the very famous To Kill a Mockingbird, in school curriculums were challenged by parents in Burbank, California, and asked to undergo a review process. There were no “yes/no” answers; The difficulty in reaching consensus was trying to do justice to the entire student body so that they could safely study the material, which often discussed racism and racial slurs.
Some schools in the US – particularly middle and high schools – have either banned or challenged certain books. The controversy that arises from the book ban process is due to how it interferes with freedom of expression as well as students’ opportunities to learn stimulating material that is most often intense or controversial.
The reasons for calls for book bans are not all on the same coin. Some adults identify certain books as too inappropriate or even harmful for young students, showing that their requests for bans are not necessarily malicious. For example, some schools have banned “To Kill a Mockingbird.” for its confrontation with racial injustice from the perspective of a white protagonist and the cooped up racial slurs. Others feel more morally compelled to object to certain books, particularly those with racial or LGBTQ+ themes, which some say are the result of conservative states’ desire to have a greater say in their children’s learning.
According to the American Library Association, the 10 most challenged books of 2021 include the more contemporary The Hate U Give. by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. Additionally, while certain school curricula specifically censored books that focused on racism and LGBTQ+ issues, they also censored books with explicit themes and profanity. Both of the books’ plots are very different from each other, but some topics were felt to be either too controversial or too demeaning.
Not surprisingly, then, the American Library Association counted a few hundred challenges to library, school and college materials, and other research databases, and while that number may seem small, it is also the result of voluntary reporting by educators.
Holland Rockwell, a junior at Thurgood Marshall College, explains that you can ultimately take the liberty of finding a book regardless of a ban, as you can go to another library or maybe fake the book online for free. However, it can be a time of growth in a school environment.
“If you are reading a work of literature in an academic setting [and] There is something problematic that comes out of this, the students should discuss it. It’s an opportunity to delve into it,” Rockwell said. “There’s only a handful of books like that Everyone reads. When you discuss it in a classroom [though] It’s good. You have access to an educated adult.”
In fact, book bans had a humorous effect similar to that of prohibition laws in the early 20th century—just more searching for the source of some people’s anger. With book bans in states like Tennessee and California, many took to Twitter to express their rebellion against book bans, posting photos with their favorite banned books and encouraging individuals to keep reading. Bookstores and libraries also played a role.
Barnes and Noble has a list of banned and contested books that can be easily found on their website. From April 13 through the end of May, the New York Public Library allowed readers to receive select banned or contested books for free through its SimplyE e-reader app for iOS or Android. Banned Books Week is also an annual event and this year is taking place from September 18th to 24th to celebrate censored materials.
UC San Diego participated in Banned Books Week just last year, which denounced censorship in favor of more reading. During the winter, a small exhibition for the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses was on display on the ground floor of the Geisel Library. The book was once banned in the US for obscenity.
Interestingly, the recently flared up discussion about banned books coincides with April’s National Poetry Month, which the Geisel Library is currently celebrating. National Poetry Month was first established in April 1996 to showcase the achievements of American poets and bring attention to poetry. this comes just a few decades after the first Banned Book week. From now on there are eight poetry showcases along Geisel West on the second floor and one floor down Geisel West four glass showcases celebrating National Poetry Month.
The exhibits clearly show limitless content of haikus and elegies, poems in different languages such as Spanish, poems in different mediums such as magnets or origami paper and much more. In fact, the poems also deal with experimental writing, with many poems presented in codes, such as in Hannah Weiner’s Code Poems.
A few decades ago, some schools banned We Real Cool,‘, a short poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, because of its obvious sexual connotation of the word ‘jazz’. Brooks said that that was not her intention, but that poetry was for personal use and, while she was the author, anyone was free to interpret the lines as they wished. The Poem “Howling” by Allen Ginsberg was so controversial that it went into an obscenity trial, where it was eventually ruled non-obscene. The Archive for New Poetry has a first edition, the first print of the author’s play in the Geisel Library.
Similar to Brooks, the lack of censorship by academic institutions also makes it clear that students or other readers have the right to come up with their own points of view, which is why book bans are usually denounced and are not commonplace, especially in higher institutions such as universities.
“A conservative movement that once claimed to stand for limited government is increasingly turning to the enforced use of law to conquer a culture it fears has been lost,” Zach Beauchamp, senior correspondent of vox, said for a February article on book bans and their spread in more conservative states.
Interestingly, however, in a poll conducted on behalf of the American Library Association, a large majority of voters, or 71% of Mgr
Ultimately, the exhibits at hand and the discussions surrounding the book ban provide an opportunity for a more visible dialogue about literature around students. When it comes to UCSD, about 4.9% of the students on campus major in arts and humanities. This is a fairly low percentage compared to other majors such as cognitive science, biology or computer science and engineering. But that doesn’t mean that you can or can get involved with more readership.
San Diego currently has a community reading program called One Book, One San Diego with many partnerships including UCSD Library. The Geisel Library is also undergoing a new renovation and is due for completion in August 2022, and the creation of a central service hub area promises to also host an automated book pharmacy. For National Poetry Month, sign up for daily poetry in your inbox.
Image courtesy of Movidagrafica Barcelona from Pexels.