This week, September 25 – October 2, is Banned Books Week, the week where we as a nation are grateful Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 never became a reality. Banned Books Week began in 1982 when there was a spike in challenges to books in the nation’s libraries, particularly school libraries. Some books were obvious targets, such as, To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn, with their rather uncomfortable frankness about race relations. Other more recent targets have bordered on or crossed over into the realm of stupidity. Harry Potter, supposedly luring children into Satanism, and Twilight, which apparently encourages fourteen-year-old girls to drink human blood, are often challenged.
The most ridiculous was Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic. A woman in Akron, Ohio, (near where I grew up), swore that the illustration to a poem about a little girl wanting to make a milkshake by shaking the cow before it was milked, promoted bestiality. I find this ironic, since my very religious mother encouraged my brother to read that same book. And this was a woman with a profound sense of guilt over reading Salem’s Lot and The Stand. So the lady in Akron looked pretty stupid to me compared to my rather strict mother.
I have no use for book banners. It represents intellectual cowardice at its worst. If you live in America and claim to cherish freedom, you have absolutely no business calling for any book to be banned.
“Well, Jim, what about The Communist Manifesto? Do you want our children to become socialist?”
No, but unlike most people who equate Marx with the Devil incarnate, I would like to meet an actual American who can define socialism.
“What about The Turner Diaries?”
Ah, there’s the rub. The Turner Diaries is a self-published modern version of Mein Kampf, beloved by white supremacists everywhere. Most people I know who’ve heard of it are sickened by its contents, even if they only know it by reputation. Do you know what they do about it? They don’t read it. They don’t buy it. That’s not book banning. That’s taking responsibility for your own actions instead of deciding that nanny state policies only apply to stuff you don’t like.
Book banning in a country where freedom of speech and thought, even when that thought is repulsive or upsetting, is hypocrisy. And we have enough hypocrites running ads between now and the first Tuesday in November.
If you don’t like something, don’t read it. Don’t let your kids read it if you think they can’t handle it. But please, don’t tell me or my kid what we can and can’t read.