Caution: dangerous books ahead!

17 Sep

September 25th marks the first day of this year’s banned book week.

So? you may ask  Why should I care?

What?! YOU SHOULD CARE A LOT!  Banned Books Week is important for a lot of different reasons, and not always the reasons that might immediately come to mind.

The American Library Association is the original backer of Banned Books Week.  ALA actually has a censorship/freedom council specifically to talk about issues concerning libraries and censorship.  Mostly this equates to “what books can we put in our libraries.”  The fact that this council needs to even exist is sad.  But it’s necessary to have something out there that is willing to fight to give the public free access to ideas.

But we have the internet, you say.  Why do we need a stodgy, old library to give us access to ideas?

Yes, that’s true.  But not everyone has access to the internet.  Crazy to imagine to us facebook-stalkers and twitter-junkies, there are a LOT of people who don’t have the internet.  This can include those who can’t afford computers, technology-impaired individuals, those in prisons, those with eye problems aggravated by computer screens, or even those who have crappy dial-up that works maybe every 7th time you try to log on like my grandparents.  These people need libraries to browse and try on thoughts and ideas and attitudes that they might not otherwise have encountered.

Okay, so these people might need libraries.  But banned books?  Those are books that are challenged for a reason, right?

Well, yes, they are challenged for reasons.  But frankly, these are normally terrible reasons.  Classics like Slaughterhouse-Five and As I Lay Dying have been banned for referencing God and religion “disrespectfully.”  Sweet, innocent Harry Potter books are called “satanic.” And many of the reasons books are challenged tend to be vague and open to interpretation, such as being “obscene” or “conflicting with community values.”  What one person may consider obscene may be the norm to another (like when your mother is scandalized you would wear a spaghetti-strap dress to church). Freedoms of religion, speech, etc. should cover all reasons why a book might be banned, and yet people still challenge books daily.  Regardless of the reason a book is challenged, it’s up to society to demand access so that people can decide individually what they want to read.

Blah blah blah, freedoms.  Duh, we have freedoms, but if the government decides to ban something it’s probably for our best interest.

No!  That’s not necessarily true.  Look at Hitler and Germany:  Hitler’s government decided that Jews were “bad” for society.  And I hope that most of us can agree that wasn’t in everyone’s “best interest.”  Alright, I played the Hitler card, but it’s still a valid point.  As a democracy, it is important, no, imperative that we challenge what the government tells us.  Now, I’m not encouraging conspiracy theorists to hold protests demanding the president show us Bigfoot or any such nonsense.  But when the government starts limiting access to information or tries to tell you what you’re allowed to think, that’s the slippery slope into fascism.  And as our friends at Counterpoise know, Dissent Promotes Democracy!

So recap: Read banned books, not just to promote reading, not just to think differently, but because it promotes and holds strong the wonderful and powerful 1st amendment!

(Also, extra points if anyone can find a banned Bigfoot book)

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