Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution
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…
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.”
– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
If you are halfway conscious in this world you are already aware of some of the titles which have made the banned books lists over the years. Amongst the most outrageous, to me, are “The Wonderful World of Oz” by L Frank Baum, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, “Charlotte’s Web” by EB White, and “The Bible” by God – all books I cannot imagine growing up without. To take the position, however, that it is somehow more wrong to ban “Winnie the Pooh” by AA Milne than it is the sexually explicit “Tropic of Cancer” by Henry Miller is to step into shaky ideological territory. We have a right, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America, to determine what we will and will not read. It is a personal choice defined by our own interests, politics, religious affiliation, ethics and curiosity. Any censorship of books or other reading material is an egregious violation of our rights.
Reading matters to me because my mom made it important. I grew up going to the library every week. When I was too little to go alone, she drove me. When I got old enough I peddled myself down there on my purple banana-seat bike to make reading choices for myself. My mom was an elementary school teacher, and she gave me the freedom and the adult library card to check out whatever I wanted to. As hokie as it sounds, I cherish those memories… the time I spent at the library carefully selecting the books I would bring home for the week.. the countless hours curled up in armchairs and tree houses, transporting myself out of my own life… those books saved my life and were the only refuge I had in my chaotic world. They reflected not just the world of “normal” kids, but worlds I could relate to.. worlds depicted in books on the banned books list. When I was reading, I was not alone with my pain and confusion.
The habit of reading stayed with me into my adult life. I have read books from all over the world, on every imaginable subject. Poetry, cooking, literature, history, mass-market mysteries, children’s stories and pornography. No single book has ever made me a worse person or citizen than I was before I read it (although some may have made me more intellectually lazy), and many of the books have made me a better person. I am more educated, aware, concerned, ethical, informed, interested, compassionate and simply better in all ways because of my addiction to books.
Who dares deny me the right to read what I please?
If you don’t think book banning and censorship are alive and well in the 21st century, Powell’s publishes a DAILY list of the current top 10 most challenged books.
Banned Books – Top Ten for Monday September 8, 2008:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. The Outsiders by SE Hinton
3. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
4. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
5. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
6. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
7. Always Running La Vida Loca Gang Days by Luis Rodriguez
8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
9. Stotan! by Chris Crutcher
10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I have read 6 of the 10 books on list and 5 of those are on my favorites list. I intend to find the other four at my local library. I want to get a look at what the conservitives don’t want me to read!
** Links to “Winnie the Pooh,” “Tropic of Cancer” etc., will each take you to a different, independent bookseller’s web site. Support your local indy bookstore!!