What It's Like to Be in a Banned Books Club
It's #bannedbooksweek, and that means we spend a week calling attention to how harmful censorship is and celebrating the right to read! We have been participating in a local Banned Books Club for the better part of a year now, so we just wanted to let you all take a peek into what a Banned Books Club looks like, and why we appreciate it so much in our reading lives!
Imagine this: it's mid-month, 7pm, and you're walking into a local bar/restaurant, passing the din of the main dining area and heading straight into the back room. Other members have begun to congregate, and are ordering up drinks or some snacks to fuel the next hour of conversation. It's a relaxed, amiable scene; almost dinner party-ish, with books and pint glasses littering the pushed together tables.
This room contains an exceptionally eclectic mix of people from all walks of life. We have fresh from college newbies, aging writers, and literally everything in between. That kind of diversity is sincerely one of the best parts about going to any book club. Suddenly you find yourself talking to someone quite different than you about politics or careers, or hobbies, or whatever else, and the perspective shift is often such a good reminder that so many different humans and points of view exist in the world.
Once everyone gets settled in, we get straight to the book. This book club easily has the broadest range of novels I've ever come across. We've read everything from YA graphic novels, to classics, to fantasy, to contemporary fiction. Members often say that's what they love about it; how broad the selections always are, and being pushed to read things they might not otherwise have picked up. It's also proof that books across all genres get challenged.
Most of us who are avid readers tend to stay in our "wheelhouse" right? We tend to know what we like, and we keep picking up the same kinds of books looking for that brand of experience. Being forced out of that has been really, really good for us. We've read more diversely, we've read genres we would have never delved into, and basically cracked open our reading lives and let all kinds of new books open the door for us to explore literature with a wider scope.
One of the first things we talk about in the meeting is WHY the book was banned. The reason has ranged from premarital co-habitation to failed seduction attempts by a teenager to illustrations that were "too graphic". This tends to lead to in-depth discussions about whether we thought a book was appropriate in schools, or whether the book made us uncomfortable or not. Sometimes its good to be uncomfortable. Sometimes its good to take a hard look at the reason why something makes you uncomfortable, and to challenge your world view and deeply rooted belief systems.
It often shocks me what amazing, important works get banned over something like homosexual undertones, or drug use, or what have you. It's reductionist. It takes a work of literature that presents something valuable to the world, and tries to reduce it into something "bad" based on one component, often even from one persons distaste/personal opinion, and it tries to silence the whole experience.
I can't imagine being so consumed with the feeling that a subject I personally deemed "wrong" should never see the light of day that I would attempt to just blot out the entire work for everyone else, but it has happened. It is happening. It will continue to happen. And that's scary. Honestly, I feel like that narrow, reactionary line of thinking, and willingness to infringe upon other people's intellectual freedom is so much more dangerous than any of the themes or subjects presented in these books could possibly be.
The people in this club tend to agree. Everyone in the room is here because they are against censorship, against silencing taboo topics or alternate world views, and very much against imposing limits on people's abilities to choose for themselves. We discuss the books that have been "challenged" to form our own opinions on it, not to have one made for us.
In the end, discussion tapers off, checks are brought, and our next read is chosen, before people scatter back out into the evening. It strikes me that everything about this book club is about perspective shifts. It's about looking at the world in new ways through books, through people, and through the beautiful mingling of the two.
Would you consider joining or starting a banned books club? Does the concept appeal to you? Let us know!