Florida has banned more books than any other U.S. state in the last year, according to a report done this year by Pen America.
There were a total of 1,400 titles disallowed from schools, more than double the number in the closest competitor, Texas. Banned books range from themes of violence and physical abuse to sexual experiences and racial topics, said Sabrina Baeta, a program consultant with Freedom to Read, a nonprofit legal and educational organization affiliated with the American Library Association.
“These are not random books that were randomly pulled off,” said Baeta. “These are targeted attacks.”
Teenagers all around the nation are fighting back, said Baeta. And one of them is Iris Mogul, a 16-year-old student at the Academy for Advanced Academics in Miami-Dade County.
Mogul started the Banned Books Club this past summer, focusing on bringing together the community while highlighting and reading censored books.
The Banned Books Club meets the last Thursday of each month at Books & Books in Coral Gables.
“I see these book bans as a form of attempted brainwash,” Mogul said. “A lot of the books that have been banned contain painful truths of American history and it seems like they are trying to erase these truths.”
The group is currently reading “Go Tell It On the Mountain” by James Baldwin and plans to read titles such as “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Ordinary People” by Judith Guest, and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.
Mogul, who grew up reading, quickly lost the habit as she advanced through school. She credits her long commutes to school to her reconnecting with reading, starting with Nick Hornby’s novel “High Fidelity.”
She had originally planned to start a book club to meet other teenagers, but when she heard about the censorship in Florida she knew she wanted to add a layer of activism to the club.
“It’s a disservice to young people,” she said. “We deserve the right to read.”
She credits her upbringing to her need for activism, being the granddaughter of Ellen G. Friedman, Holocaust survivor and author of the memoir, “The Seven.”
“My family has inspired me to stick up for what I think is just and important,” she said.
Mogul said the club has grown from nine members to 20 and she wants to reach more of the city.
“I am really grateful that people are showing up and that we are already starting to create a community,” she said.
Anne Sabol, 29-year-old fifth-year doctoral student at Florida International University, heard about the club through an interview with NPR and felt compelled to join.
“I already like to read so much and I feel it’s an important space in the community to have to show support for these books that are being banned for completely ridiculous reasons,” she said.
Sabol said she thinks the books that depict stories of marginalized groups are being censored in an effort to silence those voices.
“Having a way to have their voices heard is really important,” she said. “This club has such a welcoming environment that all different types of generations come together to discuss these censored books.”
Going forward, Mogul said she wants to continue connecting with the community to fight for the right to read for students in Miami-Dade.