Banned Books Week at FSU

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

This past week, Florida State University Libraries—in partnership with the American Library Association Student Chapter—held their annual Banned Books Week event. The purpose of Banned Books Week, according to the flyer propped inside of Strozier, is to “bring together the entire book community in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” Numerous activities took place over the past couple of days, including “Zine Workshops,” held at Goldstein and Strozier, as well as a panel discussion on intellectual freedom. I sat down with Elia Trucks, a graduate student at FSU, who works at Strozier and took charge of the event this year. We had a very interesting conversation on books, the rights of schools to censor from students and the importance of expression.

Elia argued that, “Censorship is meant to protect, but is not always right.” She believed it was not up to schools to decide on what students could and could not read. At one point she told me the ability to express oneself as well as to encourage discourse is what makes our society democratic and truly free. Of course the subject matter in classics such as Ulysses or Beloved might be graphic and controversial in nature, but how can students even begin a dialogue on these subjects if they are being censored from them? The intentions of schools may have come from a good place, but the matter still stands that they shouldn’t infringe on our right to read what we want by preventing the distribution of certain books.

Rather than ban the book about book-banning outright, Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA utilized an expurgated version of the text in which all the “hells” and “damns” were blacked out.

Rather than ban the book about book-banning outright, Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA utilized a version of the text in which all the “hells” and “damns” were blacked out.

I ventured into Strozier the last couple of days to look at the collection of banned books on display. Among the classics such as The Tales of Huckleberry Finn and Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, were some contemporary favorites such as the entire Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games trilogy. During our talk I asked Elia what her favorite banned book was. She told  me during a read out on Monday where people would volunteer to read passages from their favorite banned books, she chose to read aloud from the violent comic series, Watchmen. Her choice made me think about what my own favorite banned book was. After much perusing through my own collection, I came across a worn copy of Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury. I remember being fascinated with this novel in high school because, as a certified bibliophile, I couldn’t fathom living in a world that banned books, let alone burned them. Also, it’s not like the firemen decided on their own to burn the books, it was a consequence of society getting drawn into new media, trying to shorten books to adapt to a fast paced lifestyle, and ultimately allowing the government to hire firemen to burn books to avoid controversy.

This is why we have events like Banned Books Week every year. If we are not reminded that books hold meaning, that books are still sources of experience and life that we need to demand on a daily basis, then what will happen to us? As students, we need to question why institutions like schools try to censor certain information from us. It may be for our overall safety, but what are we missing out on? What is truly being protected from us?  I don’t want to live in a world that bans books for the purpose of trying to obtain a peace of mind, and neither should you.  Books like Fahrenheit 451, Watchmen or even the The Hunger Games bring up complicated questions. As individuals, we have the right to address them without any establishments trying to impede us. Let’s enjoy reading what we want and let’s get bothered when people try to invade on that enjoyment.

Although Banned Books Week has come to a close, you can still participate by taking a picture of yourself with your favorite banned book while using the hashtag #FSUBanned. I would like to think Ray Bradbury would approve of “selfies” in the name of intellectual freedom, so get to it.

by AMANDA VALDESPINO / contributing writer

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