By Jhoana T. Merino-Martinez
FDU faculty, staff and students gathered virtually to read passages from challenged and banned books last week in celebration of National Banned Books week and the First Amendment.
Sponsored by the FDU Library, the fourth annual Banned Book Read-Out was hosted on Zoom for the first time Wednesday, Sept. 30.
Moderator Ana Fontoura kicked off the event by reading Chapter 1 of “George,” by Alex Gino, about a transgender girl in a children’s book challenged for its LGBT content.
According to the American Library Association, when a work is challenged, there is an attempt to remove or restrict materials or services based on content. Similarly, to ban is the removal of materials or cancellation of services based on content.
Books are not the only works that are threatened — gatherings, artwork and films are also vulnerable to challenges for containing anything from political viewpoints, explicit language, sexually profane or graphic scenes. LGBT literature is a common target for banning.
“The goal was to make it very laid back and relaxed so that those in attendance did not feel like they were attending another class,” Fontoura said. “We will consider other banned book events in the future that would also engage students.”
Censorship of literature is still being practiced. Fontoura cited the 2019 case of a religious activist charged with a misdemeanor for burning several of Orange City Public Library LGBT children’s books in Iowa.
“As such, they are a threat to freedom of speech and choice,” Fontoura said.
“Many people are unaware that censorship continues to be an issue within the United States, so it’s up to us to bring awareness, start conversations and celebrate our freedom to read.”
The following listed books read at the event are available at both FDU campus libraries for in-person and online checkout.
- “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan. Exploring the themes of love and self-discovery and based on true events, this book was challenged for containing sexually explicit and LGBT content.
- “Song of Solomon,” by Toni Morrison. A coming-of-age story of the life of an African-American man in Michigan, this book was removed from school curricula for its sexual explicity content.
- “A Time to Kill,” by John Grisham. A riveting drama over racial violence in Mississippi, it was banned for graphic scenes of rape and murder.
- “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown. Though covering the history of Western Native Americans, it was banned because it was thought to be un-American.
- “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving. The story follows an 11-year-old boy who hits a foul ball and accidentally kills his best friend’s mother; the banned book was considered pornographic, vulgar and offensive.
- “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck. Bringing forth the struggles of migrant farm workers after the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, the book faced both burning and banning from public libraries and school districts for profane language and graphic nature of historical conditions.
- “The Scarlet Letter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The classic novel follows the struggle of guilt and pride through an adulterous act; it has been challenged for sinful themes, obscenity and going against community values.
“I think this year now more than ever it is important for such events, and I get the chance to share with you one of my favorite books,” Deputy Campus Executive Craig Mourton, a volunteer reader, said.
Fontoura introduced the volunteer readers during the program: Metro student Madison Martinez, Metro campus librarian Paul Dunfee, Florham Campus Executive Brian Mouro, Associate University Librarian Brigid Burk, Mourton, Florham campus librarian Eleanor Freidl and Florham Campus Associate University Librarian Nicole Potdevin.
While the speakers read their passages, a PowerPoint played in a shared-screen view displaying banned — but familiar to some — book titles.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” challenged for drug and alcohol mentions; “Animal Farm,” for its political undertones; “The Catcher in the Rye” for teenage rebellion; “Grapes of Wrath” for its graphic nature of historical struggles; and even “On the Origin of Species,” by Charles Darwin, for interfering with religious views.
“This is such a prevalent issue because as the times change, there will always be controversy,” Fontoura said. “So we have to be very aware and speak up about it, protest it, we do have a right to read and view all kinds of information.”