Banned Book Week at Millikin University

Kathryn Coffey, Writer

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Literature: it is one of the best gateways to greater thinking the world has ever known. It can take you to different places without flying on a plane, driving, or even walking. It can give you a glimpse of what life has to offer. It also contains ideas that can relate to everyday life. It even encourages people to think outside the box. Although it may be hard to appreciate it sometimes, literature’s existence is important.   

In light on how important the value of literature is, the English Club provided an annual event in Shilling 327 commemorating National Banned Books Week.

The caution tape surrounding the door immediately set the mood. As I looked at the tape, I was unsure of whether or not to go in. Now that I think of it, I was experiencing what most people might feel when they hear the term “banned books.” There is something about the word “banned” that indicates a world of forbidden possibilities.

I never thought I would feel anxious about going in. I have read some of the books on that list without feeling nervous. Yet, there I stood until someone motioned with his hand for me to come in.

As I entered the room, the number of snacks on the table baffled me. Doughnuts, chips, soda, and a million cookies occupied the island of two long tables. There was so much sweetness and saltiness, but no one was taking much of it. I couldn’t really blame them. When you hear Dr. Tony Magagna say that banning the Bible is as much as a crime as banning Fifty Shades of Grey, things are bound to get interesting. The topic was that engrossing.

This year is the first year the English Club had worked in collaboration with Mr. Mike Olsen’s University Seminar class. They were supposed to read a book and talk about it. One group of students made a poster on the book they were discussing. Others talked about the book they read from where they were sitting.

As the event drew to a close, it was clear that the collaboration was a success. According to senior Emma Hoyer, one of the members of the English Club, it’s possible that they will be having a  similar collaboration for next year because of how well the conversations went.  

“The idea of letting this class work with us was that we wanted to bridge our campus community,” she explained. “We feel very strongly that this topic shouldn’t be reserved for English majors only. It should be for all who enjoy reading.”   

All the books we talked about had one thing in common: this year’s banned book theme of diversity. The books on the tables were banned for something that is often discussed in history books or other classes, such as  racial issues and issues on sexuality. In discussing these books, we were wondering: why ban something that children are going to find out about anyway?

Hearing the people speak about these books was very fascinating. We read a few passages from Looking for Alaska, To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451. We even read a few children’s picture books from the mix: Tango Makes Three, Nappy Hair and I am Jazz. All of these books provided ideas that were unique in their own right, and they were very fun to listen to. Incidentally, all of these books are banned for reasons that we all collectively agreed were very vague.

It seems unreasonable that any book that discusses anything remotely homosexual or transgender could be banned because some demographic deemed it as “trying to convert children to the ‘dark side.’” Likewise, any book that discusses racial issues being banned for reasons such as “brainwashing” or “alienating the youth” is also dishonorable. If anything, it erases history and could hurt future generations rather than help them.

It would also be incredibly damning to not buy books because it contains an image that challenges social norms. Incidentally, this action is called soft book banning. As a society, we all should try and keep an open mind. It’s easy to just close our minds and find comfort in what we already know, but there is a fine line. For better or worse, we shouldn’t be afraid of self-discovery.

Rather than come to terms with what books should be on the list, maybe it’s time to come to terms with ourselves. If literature is like a mirror, why should we condemn its purpose? It’s only a reflection, but it’s about what we choose to do with it.

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