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English majors unite for Banned Book Week

'Banned Book Reading and Discussion' discusses the history of banned books in literature and why everyone should celebrate their right to read. Photo/Blog Contributors

English students at Ohio Northern University are often asked the important question: should books ever be banned for the content within the stories? This issue will be the focus of a Banned Books Reading and Discussion session on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Heterick Memorial Library.

This special event, sponsored by the Sigma Tau Delta, the international English Honor Society, is part of American Library Association’s Banned Book Week, Sept. 21-27, which celebrates the freedom to read and enjoy the opportunity to have open access to information.

Banned Book Week unites the literary community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those that appear to be unorthodox or unpopular.

"My favorite part of the American Library Association website is the list of banned books or books that are challenged for the material inside them,” said Douglas Dowland, an assistant professor of English at ONU. “Most of the books that readers now consider to be classics have been banned or challenged at some point in history.”

Books once banned include:

  • "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger
  • "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
  • "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
  • "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • "1984" by George Orwell

From a librarian’s perspective, Kathleen Baril, Heterick Memorial Library director, has seen multiple banned books find their way onto the library bookshelves. They are classic novels that appear to be perfect, but sometimes differing opinions overpower the views of literary fanatics.

Banned books often deal with complex issues or demonstrate a viewpoint that may conflict with the person’s viewpoint who is seeking censorship of that book,” Baril said. “Looking at the list of frequently challenged classics, I was struck by how many of the books deal with important social and political issues.”

Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel "Beloved" examines slavery and its terrible effects on a mother and her children. This topic may appear to be too heart-breaking for a reader to grasp.

Meanwhile, Orwell’s "1984" offers images of a society with no privacy and discusses totalitarian rule. This scares many readers about the future of the current society.

Lastly, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel "The Jungle" uncovers the terrible conditions in the meatpacking plants of the early 20th century, allowing readers to discover some moments in history that many citizens would rather forget.

“It’s important to discuss why books are banned or challenged because many of them deal with crucial social and political issues. Many of these are current issues today,” Baril said. “Classic novels convey emotions and ideas through their stories. If they were completely banned, the issues wouldn’t have reached a larger audience.”

Sigma Tau Delta’s Banned Books Reading and Discussion event allows for important discussions about freedom of expression, and why these rights are important to insure a free and open society.

“I hope Banned Book Week inspires everyone on campus to read one of the great books that has been a target of censorship,” Baril concluded. 

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