Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned Books Week-2009

My son just read Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 from his middle school library. It's my all-time favorite novel. Even as a child when I first watched Francois Truffaut's brilliant film version I could not understand why anyone would want to destroy books. Books are a million things to a million people. Poetry, inspiration, solace, escape, encouragement, enlightenment, education, revealing or just plain old enjoyment. The lowliest of them should be respected, the highest revered. Whether fiction or non-fiction, it isn't the books itself that scare people, it's the ideas contained within.

As a lifelong booklover/bookseller/librarian, the concept of BANNED BOOKS WEEK, created in 1982 to bring to light the incredible number of challenges and outright bans on books throughout the US at any given time, has always been near and dear to my ink-stained heart.

When I was managing bookstores, we would put up big displays of books banned nearby every year, the Bible often among them. Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Stephen King, Robert Cormier and the ever-popular for banning Judy Blume were also there. Then at one point, the company stopped participating as they didn't want to "offend" potential customers. AAARRGH! Talk about missing the point!

Today is the start of this year's BANNED BOOKS WEEK. Find out more info here-- The map you see here represents the places books became an issue in the US just since 1977 and clicking on each little blue marker at that site will give details. Look. Then go to your local library or bookstore and pick up a banned book. There's lots of good ones to choose from--Steinbeck, JK Rowling, Tin-Tin, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and sadly hundreds more. Do it because in this country you CAN and don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't read. Have faith in our kids that the ideas in the books will make them THINK for themselves. I'd rather have my son disagree with me on something by coming to his own conclusion rather than mindlessly becoming a clone of me. If what he reads sparks questions or further reading, how exactly is that a bad thing?

Maybe you could say that not all people in the US are as well-equipped to take these ideas without being negatively affected. Maybe you're right but maybe that's because they've been sheltered all along from potential harmful ideas. I know from my own experience reading anything and everything I could get my hands on at a young age that while a book might make me think, in and of itself it will never change my beliefs on anything. I love to read books by people I disagree with on any subject so I can come to understand THEIR viewpoints better. Tell me again why that's a bad thing?

Go. Read something you shouldn't.


  1. Good post, Steve. The idea of anyone banning books makes me mad as Hell.

    I can't really comment on the American attitude towards censorship, being English, but it does seem strange that a country that has free speech enshrined in its constitution should so readily allow books to be banned. I'm just glad there are people like you around to highlight the situation.

    Can you imagine what sort of idiot would ban To Kill A Mockingbird? Talk about missing the point!

  2. Steve --

    Your readers might want to examine the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's online exhibit on American and the Nazi Book Burnings. I am an educator with the Museum and have traveled the country with this exhibit training docents as well as giving workshops for teachers.

    I agree -- this is always a troubling topics for those of us who believe in free expression!