Book club at MU works to build awareness about banned literature

Monday, September 10, 2012 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:24 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 10, 2012

COLUMBIA — The number of banned books is so large, members of MU's Blacklisted Banned Books Club must be judicious when picking just one to read for the semester.

"I would love to have the club read 'The Satanic Verses' by Salman Rushdie, but it's an epic journey of a book," club secretary Sarah Swartz said. "You could injure someone with a copy of 'The Satanic Verses.'"

More information about banned books

The Blacklisted Banned Book Club aims to strike a balance between stimulation and accessibility in its book choices. Books should be on a college reading level, but not so extensive that reading them feels like a school assignment.

"I hope members don't see it as a chore or some literature class that sucks," vice president Omar Taranissi said.

The American Library Association's list of banned and challenged classics helps guide the club's book selection. Titles on the list include such literary standards as "The Great Gatsby" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"A lot of the books on the list are almost laughable that they were ever banned," Swartz said.

The club is in its second year at MU and reads one book per semester. Last year the club chose William S. Burroughs's "Junky" and Chuck Palahniuk's "Choke." This semester, the club plans to read "Rabbit, Run" by John Updike.

Meetings are in Memorial Union North 232 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every other Thursday. Swartz, Taranissi and president Ally McEntire come to meetings with some talking points for the books and aim to discuss what made the book controversial enough to be banned. Discussion is encouraged and is not limited to the book being read at the time.

"I really like it when the club becomes a social commentary on broader issues as well," Swartz said.

The officers said the club was small last year, with about eight members total. Seventeen people, not including the officers, attended the first meeting this year. McEntire said 100 people signed up for the club's email list after visiting the club table at MU's Activities Mart.

"It's gotten me really excited to be a part of something, as well as leading something that's growing like this is," McEntire said.

Potential club member Rebecca Keating said she was interested in a club that read books for fun.

"Foremost, I love to read," she said.

Keating said she hoped the club could help her learn about books she hadn't heard of before and ideas that have been ignored by the majority of society.

Faculty adviser Shannon Cary said the club helps make students aware that banning books is still an issue. She said college students are typically in an environment that is open to new ideas, and the club is a way to remind them that not all environments are so open-minded.

McEntire said that other potential activities for the club this year include a book drive during Banned Books Week and going to Missouri schools to give readings of banned books. Swartz said the banning of books particularly affects youth in rural areas because sometimes the school library is the only one available to them.

"The school library may be the only opportunity they have to really learn to love books," Swartz said.

Members of the club have most likely already learned to love books, but Taranissi said meetings were a good opportunity for members to meet a diverse group of people who share that love.

"They get to be around people they normally wouldn't be around and pick their brains," he said.

Swartz said she wants the club's members to inspire each other and think about the taboo topics banned books explore from a new perspective.

"If we can create 10 free-thinking, critical livers, I'll die happy," she said.

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