Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do Something Subversive: Read

"Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but, unlike charity, it should end there."
Clare Booth Luce (1903 - 1987)
 editor, playwright, politician, journalist, and diplomat 

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who ban books and those who fight censorship.

It's shocking to me (although perhaps it shouldn't be, given the current conservative political climate) that we are observing Banned Books Week, not as a look back at past folly, but as a raging contemporary debate. Who decides what books we are allowed to read and who should decide are ongoing questions. Spearheaded by the the American Library Association (ALA), "Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment."

Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011
Between Gutenberg's big improvement to the printing press in 1452 and the arrival of the Internet, the basic process of producing and storing the written word remained relatively unchanged. But that world is changing fast now, almost daily.

There are those who believe the Internet will be the savior of written history, preserving great (and not so great) words in the electronic cloud forever. I'm not so sure. When I think about how vulnerable I feel when the power goes out for even just a few hours, I don't trust that virtual books are the answer. Anyone remember when Kindle deleted e-books from customers' devices? Book banning seems like it could become a pretty simple process in the hands of those who control parts of the Internet.

But whether we e-read or hold actual books in our hot little hands, being able to choose our own reading material is essential to the free and open exchange of ideas in a democracy.

I'm always bemused by the jumble of titles that make the list of banned and challenged books. The American Library Association's Top 100 most banned/challenged list of the last decade includes some fascinating juxtapositions, like Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (#13) and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (#5). That same list includes at least seven of my own Top 100 books (at least so far):

Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling (#1)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (#14)
To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (#21)
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold (#74)
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (#76)
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle (#90)
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (#99)

(I also really liked 11 Points list of 11 Most Ironically Banned Books of All Time.)

What can you do to protest book banning?