Thursday, September 30, 2010


Every year the last week of September is Banned Book Week. I clip on my banned book pin, I read up on what books are currently in danger of being pulled from schools, and I get ranty about the rights of readers and writers. Free speech! Literature to the masses! Down with censorship! And yes, I believe in all of those things. Strongly. But it occurs to me that not everyone knows what I'm so up in arms about.

We live in a glorious culture, one where if you want to you can stroll down here to the bookstore and buy any of the books that were banned this year. It is fantastic. And it leads people to ask me, again and again, what it means to ban a book. After all, it's right here on the shelves. Customers can put a banned book right in their hot little hands and take it home. How forbidden could it possibly be? Turns out quite a bit if you don't have the means to buy your books.

When a book gets banned it is pulled from libraries and schools. Sure, some retailers (I'm looking at you Wal-Mart) will refuse to stock a book if it is banned, but most chose to listen to dollars rather than angry letter writers. What this means is that we are removing those books from a significant portion of our population and culture: the poor and the young. Think about the books you read in school. The books that impacted you, shaped your life, and helped you grow into the person you are. Now recognize that the odds are at least one of those books is banned. Possibly several of them.

Banned books are rarely as inflammatory as the now notorious Catcher in the Rye. In fact, most of the books we placed on our banned book shelf this week are indistinguishable from their non-banned peers. A Light in the Attic? Banned. To Kill a Mockingbird? Banned. The Diary of Anne Frank? Banned. (For being a "downer" no less.) Blood Meridian, one of the most horrifically violent books I've ever skimmed (I'd say I read it but I couldn't face it)? Not banned. These books have the sole distinction of aggravating the wrong person, and that person fought to have them silenced. And that person succeeded. Or did they?

So long as we, as readers, educators, writers, booksellers, or just plain old conscientious citizens, continue to fight for our right to read we cannot lose. If you hear about a book being challenged write a letter of support. Defend your schools and libraries. And read. Read read read, and share those books with everyone you can. Our freedom to read is one of our most precious rights. Revel in it. Defend it. And fight for it when need be. The children of the future will thank you.

- t

*To learn more about Banned Books Week visit the American Library Association.*

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