Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Media
While the media uproar is so often about the debate over the second amendment, I’m more concerned with the first—after all, words are my business. And this week, Banned Books Week, is the platform that brings the issue to light. It is our opportunity to open a dialog about free speech and how the suppression of words and ideas is perhaps one of the most insidious acts that can be perpetrated on a society.
As the Assryian teacher, Ahiqar, said more than 2,000 years ago,” The word is mightier than the sword.” Indeed, words have shaped the world, for better and worse, more than any weapon ever has. We fight wars over religious writings; revolutions have begun with clandestine publications; coups have succeeded through words. Ray Bradbury said in his seminal book-burning novel, Fahrenheit 451, “A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?” (GoodReads).
But unlike weapons, words, books, are used to teach, sooth, create, and delight. They expand our understanding of the world, people, and nature. At a moment’s notice, they have the ability to transport us to fantastic worlds, to the past, and to the center of the heart and soul.
Because words are such dangerous weapons, because they have the distinction of changing us so deeply, they are the target of government, schools, and religious suppression. While the transgressions worldwide can’t be ignored, book banning in the United States, the country that values freedom more than anything else, is alive and thriving.
Although books that we now consider pretty tame (Canterbury Tales, Moll Flanders, Arabian Nights, and more) were banned under the Comstock (obscenity) Law of 1873, the list of current banned and challenged books is growing and the reasons are increasingly personal and restrictive (Library Research Service). The most recent list includes Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (anti-family), Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, for political viewpoint, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (“promotes the homosexual agenda”), and Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for containing controversial issues (Banned Books Week).
So who is doing the banning and where? According the American Library Association (ALA), the majority of challenges come from parents of school-age children who would like to see books taken from library shelves. Other initiators include clergy, board members, and schools—see more statistics at http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/statistics. The ALA stands by their doctrine of supporting free speech, and “condemns censorship and works to ensure free access to information” (ALA).
Fighting the battle against book banning is easy: simply read. Read books that you love; read books that make you angry; read books that challenge you. Read to your children, buy books, check out books, go to libraries and bookstores. But most of all, read banned books. As the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky said, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/about
Banned Books Week: http://bannedbooksweek.org/about
Library Research Service: http://www.lrs.org/2007/10/08/who_knew____banned_books_and_book_burning_fun_facts/
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