During a trip to Vancouver two weeks ago with my mom to look for a prom dress, we took a day trip to the University of British Columbia. We settled in with coffees at the Student Union Building – in the pub no less – because we didn’t know where else there were seats. No sooner had we taken a sip than a young woman approached and asked us for ID. My mother just laughed and asked, “are you serious?” but she was, so we left.
As we continued to walk around the campus under our umbrellas, we stumbled upon the university’s library, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. This isn’t just any library – built in 2008, it holds almost two million volumes and provides study space for over 1500 students. It is home to a cafe and provides multitudes of computers for student use. One other thing that separates the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre from any other library is its current display collection of banned and controversial books. The exhibit is part of this year’s annual “Freedom To Read Week.” While we were there, we had a chance to look at some of the titles included in this list. Among the ones that I found particularly surprising to be there were: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller; The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie; The Giver, by Lois Lowry; and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Now that’s just to name a few – the list in the exhibit is exhaustive.
Some titles, which I hadn’t necessarily heard of, that I wasn’t surprised were on the list: Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler; The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson; Suicide, mode d’emploi, by French author Claude Guillon, and others. The entire list, comprising over 130 titles, can be found online at the following address: http://tinyurl.com/UBC-controversial-books. If you have read any of these titles, do you agree that they could be thought of as controversial? Why or why not? Just some food for thought.
Although the freedom to read is not listed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it can never be taken for granted.
As stated on the “Freedom to Read” website, “a book with a controversial reputation tends to be quietly dropped from reading lists and curricula.”
Of course whoever is requesting the banning of a book does not want it to turn into a big scene. The idea would be to ‘erase’ the title without it ever being picked up on by readers. This would be easier said than done.
Literacy month may be nearly over, but we should remember every day that we are privileged to have the skill of reading that many others do not.
Next time you read something – anything, even right now, actually – pause for a moment and consider how lucky you really are.
Katelynn Bolster writes the semi-regular Twenty Below column.