Banned Books Week tackles censorship
The week of October 1 has been designated Banned Books Week by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors, to name just a few of the organizations that sponsor this event. It’s a time set aside to celebrate our freedom to read. We may not think about it too much, but every day in America, someone somewhere would like to see a book pulled from library bookshelves forever. And if they succeed, they chip away at your freedom to read.
Censorship is something that we as Americans should stand against. If we let our freedoms erode, then we let America and democracy erode. Those who came before us worked too hard and sacrificed too much to let that happen. President Harry Truman said, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.” One of our greatest privileges as Americans is the freedom to have open discussions, open debates, and a free-flowing exchange of information and ideas, without the fear of repercussion.
Heinrich Heine was a critic, poet and playwright who was born in 1797. In his play Almansor, written in 1821, he said, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” Roughly 120 years later, his homeland of Germany was fulfilling Heine’s chilling prophecy. But don’t think that burning books ended with the fall of Nazi Germany. In 2001, J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” were burned outside the Christ Community Church in Alamagordo, New Mexico. The books were described as “satanic.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.”
Sometimes people feel that, while censorship is wrong, sometimes it is necessary. Some books have been challenged because they contain racial slurs, especially because they contain the word “nigger.” These books include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry.
But, as Golda Meir pointed out, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” We may abhor the use of racial slurs in present day society, but we can’t pretend it never happened.
Some of you may recall in a previous article that I was lamenting the purchase of 50 Shades of Gray, and was feeling a bit like a censor myself. I did purchase the trilogy, in case you were wondering. It hasn’t circulated too much, but that’s okay, too.
Here’s the interesting part: 50 Shades of Gray was banned in some Florida library systems. BANNED. Not just, “We aren’t going to buy it and hope no one notices,” but full on This Book Shall Never Cross Our Doors So Forth and So On. They are obviously protecting their patrons from…what? Poor writing? A lack of originality? I don’t know what they were thinking. But what did they really accomplish, besides saving $30? It’s more popular now than it ever was. People want to find out what’s so terrible.
I love this quote from Noam Chomsky, who said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” I love it because it makes me feel uncomfortable, as it should. It’s hard to put into practice sometimes, especially during election years, but it sums up one of the things that makes our country great.
So enjoy a banned book this week. Come check out 50 Shades of Gray! Don’t let anyone take away your right to read, even if I look at you with sympathy and whisper, “It’s crap.” Read it with relish because you can.