By Mia Roe
These days there seems to be an app for pretty much anything, and the limits to ones specifically tailored to reading appear to be endless. But how about an app that educates students on the books that have been banned in their state?
When novels, like those we think of as novels now, first began being produced and shared in the mid 18th century, they were known for, in some cases, spreading wild and controversial ideas. Over the centuries, the artform has seen thousands of its titles prohibited to the masses for a whole range of reasons, though most when read now, feel entirely tame. The banned books of today are consistently targeted for their “radical” ideas of sexuality and race— which feels like the mid 18th century — and all across the world narratives are being condemned for simply giving voice to “controversial” topics.
America appears to be the country with the largest list of objections. A country made up of fifty entirely different states, all with their own sanctions and laws, America’s list of banned books is by a long mile the most extensive, with a total of 2,571 banned last year in the country alone. Right wing fears against “wokeism” is causing the surge of illegal literature, but the Digital Public Library Association (DPLA) has something different to say.
A “My Eyes Only” for e-books, the Banned Book Club is a new GPS-based geo-targeted that notifies a user of banned books in their local area and offers them the opportunity to download them for free on an e-reader app known as The Palace Project.
By censoring what we read, governments are closer to controlling our knowledge of wider ideas; it’s a hobby but it can also be something entirely different: for many reading is a way to self-discover, connect, question and even break away from the confines around them.
The cause is even backed by previous US President Barack Obama who shared his support for the cause by stating that specifically banning books that feature the voices of marginalised communities is “no coincidence.”
What I like about this cause, and specifically the website’s new age format, is the subversive approach it takes to historical right-wing fearmongering. Where communities were once encouraged to “report” marginalised people for “suspicious activity,” The Banned Book Club expands its user engagement by asking its users to “report a book ban” in their local area.
Banning books bans people, bans freedom of speech and even thought. Orwell taught us what happens after that. The DPLA mean business by tackling the institutions that seek to curb free expression. Perhaps in their wake, we’ll find a way to grapple with government policy? You can donate to the DPLA project here.