Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trying to Conceal Thoughts

"Don't join the book burners. Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed" ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower ~

This week is Banned Books Week. I took a look at the ALA's website- love that site!- to peruse the list of books that were banned and/or challenged during the 20th century. I had read about 80% of them, all in junior high or high school. My English teacher, Mrs. Clement, wanted us to read the classics, and as a motivation to do so she gave us a book report assignment every 6 weeks. There was no way you could make higher than a 90 if you didn't read a classic. As a result, for the three years I was in her class, every 6 weeks I worked my way through at least one piece of classic literature, sometimes two or three just for fun. And I loved them.

These books were inspiring, they were sad, they made me think, they opened me up to new ideas, and yes, some had profanities, some had sexual content, some had "controversial ideas". And yet here I am, pretty far from a degenerate if I do say so myself. Books are still being banned and challenged fairly often, especially in schools, and I couldn't disagree with it more. If a parent thinks reading a story in the 3rd grade about a baby penguin named Tango with two dads is going to undermine 18+ years of religious instruction in the home... well, that's kind of silly. But fine, if you don't want *your child* to read that book, you should have that right. But don't take the book out of the library, because then you're choosing for everyone's children.

If you have a strong belief in certain morals, if you don't use certain language, if you don't subscribe to certain worldviews, reading a book that challenges those opinions shouldn't be given the power to undermine your entire life. There are lots of books that I don't choose to read, because they're not my style, or I think they're a waste of time, or yes, even because I find them offensive. But I want that choice. Intellectual freedom is fundamentally important. It matters that we, in this country, have the right to write books criticizing our President while he or she is in office. It matters that we have freedom of discourse to disagree and write books about those disagreements. It matters that investigative journalists can uncover unpopular stories and put them in books and get them out to the public. And it's just as important that people who disagree with those books can protest them if they want, write another book as an angry retort, a critic can pan it, and people can choose not to read it.

People can CHOOSE not to read it. That's what it really comes down to. People who try to ban books or burn them are people who clearly have no faith in their own morals. If everything you believe in can be toppled by a single book, maybe what you believe in isn't that strong. Or maybe you only believe in it in the absence of other information.

Have you read any of these banned books? Check and see here- http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics/reasonsbanned/index.cfm


  1. In college, I had to read a lot of classical books as an English major and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed some of them. Some were tough to get through just because of the antiquated language, but the stories...AMAZING!

  2. I came over from Jenna's blog because you express yourself so well and have such an interesting perspective on things I know little about.

    Love this post - and your point about a belief system being weak if it's put at risk by what's inside one book is a strong one.

    I have read a ton of "banned" books, and I feel very strongly that censorship is wrong. If we come up against something that upsets us, why not take that opportunity to determine WHY it's upsetting... bring it out in the open... and maybe demystify the situation?

  3. @Newlyweds- I so agree. The language can be hard to get around sometimes- Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was so. dense. but the stories are so transcendent. I loved "Jane Eyre" as well as "Tess of D'ubervilles" for the amazing stories.

    @Life- I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to hear that I "express myself well", because I so often worry that I come off too strong on things I'm passionate about. I want to get people interested and excited, and not turn them off :)

    And I think you're spot on about using upsetting things to do some self analysis as to *why* it upsets us- some of the books I've gotten the most out of are the ones I disagreed with the most!