Keep your eyes peeled (and your minds open): Sept. 18-24 is Banned Books Week, and a group of bookstores is hiding free copies of banned and challenged books around Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
Because the stores want these books to be found, it’s not so much a treasure hunt as it is a giveaway. You might, for example, embark on a beach walk, and find a copy of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” or Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give,” sitting on a bench.
Participating stores will hide plastic-wrapped copies of their favorite banned and challenged books in what the organizers call the “first annual Cape and Islands Banned Books Hunt.”
“Reading is an opportunity for us to expand the way we view the world. There should never be a limitation on how we learn about the world around us, people around us. Ideas aren’t threatening,” said event organizer Jessica Devin, co-owner of Brewster Book Store.
“A lot of times we fear the unknown — that makes sense, that’s human nature. But we should be open to considering the unknown and considering experiences that are different from our own. That’s where you [find] the beauty in humanity.”
Aside from Brewster Book Store, participating stores include Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore and Children’s Annex and Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham, Sea Howl Bookshop in Orleans, Belonging Books on Cape Cod, and Edgartown Books in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.
The hunt ties into the national Banned Books Week. Now in its 40th year, the annual event celebrates “the freedom to read,” according to its website. It started “in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries… it highlights the value of free and open access to information.” The week’s theme for 2022 is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
For the Cape and Islands hunt, hiding the books is a way to raise awareness and engage the community.
“While we’d love to have people come into our stores, access to books happens in lots of different places — libraries, used book stores, yard sales,” Devin said. A banned book hunt “marries outdoor appreciation, community-building, and the love of reading, and the ability to have choice when we’re reading.”
There will be a mix of reading levels, from kids to adults, hidden in public spots around various towns near participating stores.
Brewster Book Store plans two rounds of hiding — one at the start of the week, and another round toward the end, so people can keep the hunt going. Some books are in plain sight, others will require “extra sleuthing.” Finders are encouraged to read the book, share it, or donate it to a local school.
“Random House has been generous in donating some of the books, but bookstores themselves are donating as well,” she said.
Stores will pull titles from lists such as the ALA Banned and Challenged Books Lists. In 2021, the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 729 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2021. Of the 1,597 targeted books, these were the five most challenged books in 2021, according to the ALA list:
- “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe
- “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson
- “Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Pérez
- “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas
“A lot of the books that have been challenged more recently are geared toward middle-readers and young adults,” Devin said. “Kids aren’t trying to ban books — it’s adults.”
The week may have begun in 1982, but the practice of banning books doesn’t seem to be going away — in fact, it appears to be ramping up. Thus far in 2022, the ALA has documented 681 challenges to books, involving 1,651 titles.
The danger of book-banning “is we close ourselves off to other people. We remain isolated and dictated by our fears of the unknown. We limit discourse,” Devin said. “There’s such great value in exploring ideas that are different from our own. Reading allows us to do that.”