I always intend on a really ambitious classic reading binge around banned books week, and then I get there I look up from the book I’m reading, get a little embarrassed and figure maybe next year.
Of course, at this point so many books are being challenged that you can practically trip over them. I’m almost done with John Green’s Looking for Alaska, it was on my ‘I’ve been meaning to read’ list for ages, it apparently was also one of the top ten challenged books for last year. As was the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series which I remember fondly from elementary school.
A few years ago the New York Times had an article on ways to celebrate Banned Books Week. Interesting that they’ve not revisited it…
One of the standard arguments is that now books aren’t totally banned, they’re still available for purchase even if they aren’t available at the library-so there’s no need for this hoopla, right?
Challenging books in public libraries and schools is still a first amendment matter, and letting a small group of people choose what can and can’t be allowed in schools or libraries is a huge threat.
The ALA site has some fantastic quotes regarding intellectual freedom. There’s a long John Stuart Mill quote from On Liberty:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
I’m not a George Bernard Shaw fan, but I do love quotes, so I need to add this one:
“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
Among the frequently challenged classics, my favorites are probably Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. Besides being pathetic, full stop, it also strikes me as pathetically hilarious that people keep trying to ban them. Missing the point much?