Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Both my favorite and least favorite national “week” of the year is fast approaching. Banned Books Week begins Saturday, September 24 and ends Saturday, October 1. As I have in the past, I cheer and praise the American Library Association for promoting this event. As always, I regret that Banned Books Week exists.
The ALA is clear as to why we need a Banned Books Week. It “highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.”
Isn’t that a great line? Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.
Intellectual freedom. As far as I am concerned, that is right up there with freedom of religion, another right I tend to hold close to my heart.
As I have often noted, I love reading. As it was for Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird (a book frequently targeted for banning, incidentally), reading is like breathing for me. I love books. Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without them.
This fall, I have made it a personal project to read every book awarded a Newbery Medal, the award given annually to the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Newbery was first given in 1922, and there are 90 of them out there. As of this posting, I am a third of the way through the list. Even Newbery Medal books are the target of banning attempts, some of them decades after being published. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the 1959 Newbery Medal book, was challenged as recently as 2002 on the grounds that it promotes witchcraft. (Ironically, two strong themes in the book are freedom of religion and the dangerous consequences of suppressing religious freedom. The “witch” is a Quaker living on the fringes of a Puritan colony.) In talking about a challenge to The Higher Power of Lucky, the 2007 Newbery Award book, because it contained the word “scrotum” one time in one sentence, a former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee called out what we are really talking about: censorship. She criticized schools and libraries banning the book on the basis of one word one time, pointing out “that’s what censors do — they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.”
There are lots of books out there, ranging from superb to a wretched waste of paper. Some contain ideas and thoughts that I do not endorse or even find repugnant and offensive. But that doesn’t mean I want to ban those books. It just means I cut a wide swath around them when I come across them, or speak out against the ideas they contain.
Last year for Banned Books Week I wrote about a favorite scene in the movie "Field of Dreams." The scene takes place during a school board hearing when a parent is trying to get a book banned. Annie Kinsella opposes her and challenges the audience:
Now, who's for the Bill of Rights? Who thinks freedom is a pretty darn good thing? Come on! Let’s see those hands! Who thinks we have to stand up to the kind of censorship they had under Stalin? [Hands go up all over the auditorium.] All right! There you go! America, I love you. I’m proud of you!
I too am for the Bill of Rights. I too think that freedom is a pretty good thing. And in preparing to celebrate my rights and my freedom, I’m making sure I am surrounded by books for Banned Books Week.
I hope you are too.