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Monday, February 23, 2015

Freedom to Read Week


Each year, the final week of February is set aside to celebrate Freedom to Read Week in Canada. It's an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The event is sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts and receives support from a wide variety of organizations, including publishers such as HarperCollins Canada Ltd and Penguin Random House.

The Challenged Works List includes more than 100 challenged books, magazines and other written works. Some of the highlights that I've read include:

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: It always boggles my mind how people cannot see (or understand) the context of a novel. What may seem racist today was matter-of-fact in 1884, just as what was coarse and vulgar then is almost quaint today.
  • Antigone by Sophocles: The band council of the Poundmaker Cree Nation provided no public explanation for banning the play, but apparently 5th century themes of tyranny and corruption are hard for some authorities to deal with.
  • Different Seasons by Stephen King: Really? Of all King's titles, this is the one that gets banned for language and sexual content? Imagine if the school board ever picked up a copy of Carrie or It.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: This one's not even a matter of context, it's a matter of sheer stupidity. It's been a long time since I read it, but I don't remember what could be so profane and irreligious about it.
  • Sex by Madonna: Okay, this one I kind of get, but I'm glad the library board finally saw reason and decided to keep it in the system for borrowers over the age of 18.
  • The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman: Despite my general disinterest in YA fiction, I'll freely admit I sought this out one specifically because it was objected to based on atheist themes.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Wow, so a novel about a misogynist dystopia includes profane language, violence, and sexual degradation? Did the parent bother to read it? Does he/she understand that it's designed to provoke and challenge our attitudes?
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: This one infuriates me. A parent (who never read the novel) objected to its depiction of magic, and the school principal (who never read the novel), ordered its removal. Great lesson to teach the kids.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Again, it all comes down to context. Yes, it includes racial epithets that are disturbing today, but it was written 55 years ago, and it deals rather seriously and openly with the subject of race.

At the end of the day, as much as I can't stand idiots who don't understand context (or history), it's those knee-jerk reactions from people who can't even be bothered to read the material that infuriate me the most. Not that a book should ever be banned, but at least understand what you're getting so upset about.

1 comment:

  1. I think most people who complain about a book have probably never read it. I mean, Harry Potter is one of the ultimate good triumphs over evil, fighting adversity etc but the word 'magic' gets them screaming 'devil worship!!!' Crazy stuff. I am never in favour of banning any book. People should be free to read it and make up their own mind. If there is concern about content a discreet warning can be put on the cover the way they do with cds that contain swearing. And of course, banning a book will make more people want to read it!

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