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In my profession there are annual celebrations of the literary variety. While each subgroup of Librarianship has its own observances, some are more general to encompass the entire profession. Such as it is with Banned Book Week. Typically, geared toward librarians who work with young adults, all libraries have been known to make a show of this “holiday.”

Banned Book Week always falls on the last week of September-the first week of October. It stems from the time-honored ideology of Librarians as activists for the First Amendment of the American Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What this translates to in my profession is the belief people have the right to write or read a book, thus entitled to their opinions, and likewise they have a right to love or hate a book. However, they do not have a right to tell the next person what to believe or read. In America we bristle at any hint of censorship. We believe every person is intelligent and can decide for themselves whether to read a book.

I know it must sound silly; “to read a book,” but considering the book was one of the most influential mediums to spread ideas and pass on knowledge, it is no wonder why strict governments have issued banns, censors, and burning of books to stop the flow of new and dangerous ideas from spreading over the country and the world. Remember this was obviously before the advent of the internet and new books were like a virus. While it is true the literate population was considerably lower, it only took a single literate person to read to an illiterate or simply pass on the idea s/he read in conversation, thus setting off a chain of gossip and news. To be a true radical and rebel, a person must read.

Now, contrary to popular belief people were not prudes until the 1960s. There will always be licentious, politically dangerous, and freethinkers in every era. That said, the Victorian era, collectively was very conservative. It was actually a departure from the previous reigns of European monarchies or anything the young country of America had ever seen. So what might have seemed “the norm” would now suddenly shock the Victorians in their display of propriety. Ironically, or perhaps not so surprisingly, depending on your perspective many books written during the 19th century are constantly banned today.

To ban a book is to prevent others from reading it. In most instances this means removing the offending item from the library shelves so it is not available to the masses. Many see banning as taking the moral high ground and thus saving the population from such nonsense or filth.

Some banned writings from 1800s or earlier:

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by J.M. Barry
  • The Bible (considered the most banned book of all time or for all times, however the case may be)
  • Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • Candide by Voltaire (a personal favorite of mine)
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (another favorite)
  • Fanny Hill by John Cleland (in the vein of 50 Shades of Grey)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (more on this later)
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Moll of Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  • Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe