Banned Books Week

Bookstore Owner, Cinnamon Dokken, poses for a portrait next to a banned books collection at A Novel Idea, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

It’s right there in the Constitution: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. America has made a cultural tradition out of taking pride in freedom of press, religion and more. However, literary works on all ends of the political spectrum have been hotly contested throughout history. Hence, the establishment of Banned Books Week — the American Library Association’s way of advocating for true personal freedom.

A Novel Idea, one of Lincoln’s locally-run downtown bookstores, is marking Banned Books Week with its own weeklong celebration.

“We think it’s a great way to highlight the importance of intellectual freedom, the importance of being able to make your own choices,” said Cinnamon Dokken, the owner of A Novel Idea.

The Banned Books Week runs from Tuesday, Sept. 24 to Saturday, Sept. 28 at A Novel Idea and features a wide range of commonly challenged or banned books. The store is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Even before entering A Novel Idea, the storefront could grab passerby’s attention with special Banned Books Week signage. The location is marked by a hard-to-miss sign out front, and caution tape plastered across the front door spelling out, “fREADom,” really summarizing what this event is all about — diversity and personal choice. 

At the event, customers are free to spend as much time as they wish browsing through the various banned books. They can also explore the depths of the store’s other curated sections and hidden corners, all while sharing space with the resident store cats milling about. 

Located in the center of the store’s first level, a table swathed in caution tape serves as a warning of the often-challenged content it contains — banned books. There is a diverse range of novels residing on the banned or challenged books table. Examples include acclaimed literary classics such as “Moby Dick,” “Brave New World,” and “The Outsiders,” as well as shockingly modern examples like “The Kite Runner” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” According to Dokken, all novels on the table have been challenged, banned, burned or otherwise censored. 

All customers also receive a free pin as a special Banned Books Week treat. These pins, as well as the signs dotted around the shop encouraging visitors to “Read Banned Books!” were designed by a local artist, and feature a cat armed with caution tape tying up a stack of censored books.

This event takes on a relaxed atmosphere, with customers filtering in and out. Throughout the day, all kinds of people stop by to flip through the display, chat with the store’s staff and discuss which works made the banned books list this year.

“It’s actually really surprising, because some of the books that are on there you wouldn’t think about being banned, some of them are taught in high school courses,” customer Emeral Bagby said. 

All parties present, though, said they agree exposure to challenged and banned books is essential to preserving personal freedom.

“It’d be really awkward if society just refused to look at things they didn’t like,” customer Cassandra Kribell said.

Dokken reinforces this viewpoint, saying while everyone is entitled to their own views regarding literature, those beliefs shouldn't be imposed on others.

“You can make decisions about what’s going to be right for you or your child … but we draw the line when people want to make the choice of what’s right for everyone and everyone’s child,” Dokken said.

This is the essence of what Dokken’s goal is for this event — encouraging the Lincoln community to glimpse into other perspectives through literature.

At its heart, the purpose is to celebrate personal choice and the freedom to explore any and all knowledge. Banned Books Week takes on an accepting, connecting and community-building role this week for anyone who stops by A Novel Idea.

“These things exist in the world,” Dokken said. “And people deserve to be able to read about them.”