Author Stephen King once said that books are “a uniquely portable magic.” This Friday, that magic will spill out onto the steps of the Shake Learning Resources Center at Vincennes University during the annual Banned Books Read-Out.
From 10 a.m. to noon outside the library, faculty, staff, students and community members alike are invited to gather together and listen to volunteers read aloud passages from their favorite controversial books, verses of poetry or even an “occasional scandalous science treatise” to celebrate Banned Books Week.
Reference librarian Richard King said VU has been hosting the read-out for the past seven or eight years as a means of marking Banned Books Week, which runs through Oct. 1 and, according to the American Library Association, is all about celebrating the freedom to read and highlighting the value of free and open access to information.
Though the underlying theme of actually banning books isn't something that happens often locally, King noted that Banned Books Week is still an important one to honor each year.
“This is a way to emphasize the danger of banning books in a free society, but also to celebrate that we can read what we want to,” King said. “We all know there are societies and countries out there where you don't have that right.”
The read-out will coincide with similar read-out events that will be hosted across the country, he added, and light refreshments including coffee and cookies will be available. There will also be places for folks to sit as they listen to the volunteers read in 10-minute increments.
Attendees and passersby will likely hear from some token favorites, such as Allen Ginsberg's “Howl,” Katherine Paterson's “Bridge to Terabithia” and J.D. Salinger's “The Catcher in the Rye.”
“We've even had a couple scientific treatises read in the past. Someone has read Galileo, for instance,” King said. “So there might be some scientific things, too. It really spans the spectrum.”
Last year, Knox County Public Library young adult services manager Jordan Ellerman participated in the read-out and chose from a book that meant a lot to him during his teen years.
“I read 'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky,” he said. “It was a really exciting moment. I had such a great time.”
King noted that while it may seem farfetched to some, the act of banning books is not an antiquated or old-fashioned one; the fact is, it still happens today, as evidenced by the ALA's annual monitoring of banned or challenged books across the country.
Taking a look at those banned book lists throughout history actually gives a snapshot of society at different points in time, said Haley Lancaster, an English teacher at Lincoln High School.
“Banning books says a lot about our culture. If you look over the decades, you see how the reasons change over time,” Lancaster. “Recognizing banned books is a celebration of the First Amendment. What's better than that?”
Ellerman agreed that one of the reasons Banned Books Week is so interesting and important to celebrate is because of the nature of the books that have been challenged over the years.
“If you look at (those books), many of them are the model champions for diversity and change, presenting many different types of characters from all races, genders, sexualities and faiths. I think those books represent so much to so many people that to ban them bans individuality,” Ellerman said. “So by us reading from books, often books that moved us, we are standing up to censorship and championing diversity.”
King noted that a book display of banned and challenged books has been set up in the library to celebrate the weeklong literary holiday. The display prominently features some graphic novels, he said, which always seem to ruffle feathers.
“There's something about those that lend themselves to criticism,” King said. “Art combined with text has a way of getting under people's skin sometimes.”
Posters are on display throughout campus as well, created by several of professor Carley Augustine's graphic design students, that call on folks to be “superheroes” and stand up for their right to read what they want to.
Additionally, from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday in Room 167 of Shake Library, there will be a free screening of the anime film “Shimoneta: A Boring World, Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn't Exist,” which deals with censorship of “impure” thoughts and actions facilitated through advanced technology. There will be a short discussion on the topics presented in the film after the screening.
King said everyone across both the VU and Knox County communities are encouraged to attend Friday's read-out, camp out on the steps, meet different people – and, of course, experience a little magic.
“Sometimes it's hard for people of different ages and backgrounds to cross over in their social lives,” King said. “So having faculty, staff, students, people of different ages, plus some community members around all having cookies together – it's fun and kind of an important thing for the library to do.”
For more information about Banned Books Week and to take a peek at banned book lists by decade, visit www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek.