Celebrate Banned Books Week - Read One

This week (September 27 - Oct 4) is Banned Books Week. Various organizations have planned events highlighting our need to support both the freedom of the written word and the authors who create them. The American Library Association has materials and information available for anyone who wants to host an event. Amnesty International is encouraging people to support authors who have been persecuted for their work. Even Google is in, offering lists of banned books and links back to the ALA site for those who want to fight book challenges in their own communities.

Many times in the United States we take for granted the right to read or say whatever we wish, secure in our first amendment rights. Every day in every state, however, books are being challenged and/or removed from library shelves because some people believe they have the right to impose their moral codes on others through restricting their access to information. It's not all done through official channels either - I've personally known people who have gone into libraries and checked out books that offended them with the express purpose of not returning them, thereby "saving" someone from being exposed to the contents. It's a problem that needs to be addressed both with education and harsh penalties for people who take it upon themselves to decide what is appropriate for me to read.

Of course, those people are small potatoes compared to the threat from schools, libraries, and local governments removing or banning books. Sometimes it's a matter of public pressure or parent protest, and sometimes it's simply an elected official who decides to be the moral compass for the entire community. Whoever or whatever the reason, though, the simple fact is, it's wrong.

I'm not referring to pornography here. (Although I don't believe in censorship of any kind.) I'm talking about classics of literature. Mark Twain, for example, is consistently one of the most challenged authors. This issue is about much more than books - it's about the free flow of ideas, and it's about access to those ideas by everyone - the very definition of democracy.

So this week, celebrate. Celebrate your right to read whatever you want. Check out lists of banned and challenged books, and read something that someone, somewhere, thinks you shouldn't have access to. It's as much about freedom as the 4th of July. Even more so, I think.

30 September 2008


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