Paderborn University students exploring banned and challenged books and PADERBORN2READ—The English Book Club organized an event all about contested literature, the cultural and political discourses at work and the ethical dimensions of book censorship and banning. About thirty to fourty people participated in the event at any given time and enjoyed a PADERBORN2READ Red List & Contested Literature Exhibition, a Student Projects Exhibition, a Banned Book Quiz, and Open Discussion Forums.
Challenging, banning, or even burning books is nothing new. What is new—and very troubling—is the dramatic increase in the number of books that are currently being contested, particularly in America. The American Library Association reports a 70 % increase between 2021 and 2022 in book challenges. This trend should concern all lovers of literature and defenders of free speech. Banned books are silenced voices, and banning books closes off the important discursive spaces where we can engage in meaningful dialogue about the issues raised in those books. The banned books day created awareness for these silenced voices and fostered discussions about their relevant issues.
PADERBORN2READ—The English Book Club wants to thank club members Andrea and Beth for initiating the collaboration, the “Banned Books: Exploring Contested Literature” students for their immensely creative contributions, and all guests who joined us for making the banned books day a fun but also thought-provoking success! We are already looking forward to the next extravaganza. In the meantime, we will keep pursuing the motto “books worth banning are books worth reading”. #ReadBannedBooks
“They banned Northern Lights?! What? Why?”
Throughout the afternoon and during a half-hour focus session, participants could check the PADERBORN2READ Red List of all challenged or banned books that the English Book Club has discussed thoughout its history from winter term 2011/2012 to 2023/2024 and also look at those forbidden books in the Contested Literature Exhibition. 20 out of 152 discussed texts have been challenged or banned in various countries—their “obscene”, “occult”, and generally “unsuitable” contents have had discursive spaces in our club. The list that carefully documents the research done by club member Maty can be downloaded here.
“Have you had your blind date yet?”
Throughout the afternoon and for a full-hour focus session, participants could explore the Student Projects Exhibition that covered various aspects of book censorship and banning, ranging from banned female sexuality over banned dystopian texts and bannings in prisons to controversies surrounding David Britton’s Lord Horror, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Stephen King’s novels. Many of the exhibits were interactive and visitors enjoyed navigating through a digital display of book banning through history, matching quotes to banned books and receiving their personalized reading recommendations at a blind date with a banned book.
“No half points? Are you serious?”
From 3.45 to 4.15 p.m. all participants joined the Banned Book Quiz that club member Eleonore had prepared. Five teams with more or less creative names like “My Favourite Team”, “Something”, and “The Fantasy Five” battled it out and tried to find the right answers to banned book trivia questions including picture and music rounds. In the end, “My Favourite Team” turned out to be the best team. Congratulations to the banned book quiz champions!
“So where does that leave us now?”
From 4.15 to 4.45 p.m. three groups were formed for the Open Discussion Forums that club members Andrea, Delia, and Ronja had prepared. The groups discussed whether banning is really about the text, argued for and against ‘corrections’ of children’s stories, and explored the current discourse surrounding cancel culture. Even if the discussions had no satisfyingly ‘simple’ outcome, the discursive space that was created was well worth it.