Wednesday, September 30, 2009

why yes, Virginia, there really is still censorship

At my bookstore, we have a display up in honor of Banned Books Week (which is this week, the 26th of September through the 3rd of October). Personally, I think it's a rather silly looking display because "flames" made out of sparkly mesh fabric just don't seem very threatening, or even interesting to look at. But such unfortunate decorations are important if they're meant to remind us about our glorious, magnificent, essential right of freedom of expression, and the First Amendment that protects it. It's especially important when people don't know that books are still banned, that censorship does still happen, that there are still people out there who will try to put boundaries on your choices of what to read, and how to think, and what to say.

A woman and her son were looking at some of the books on our sparkly, unconvincingly inflammable table, and the son said, "Oh! Mommy, look at these penguins. What does 'banned' mean?"

The woman said, "That means people didn't want other people to read them. They took them away. But, that happened a long time ago." Then she turned to me and said, "Right? These books were banned a long time ago, weren't they? That doesn't happen now."

It kind of broke my heart to tell her that, yes, actually it does still happen now. There were five hundred and thirteen challenges against books that were reported in 2008. And Tango Makes Three, which is a charming picture book about two male penguins who adopt a baby penguin, was the most challenged book of last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

There is a fascinating map that shows where books have been banned and challenged between 2007 and 2009, with little bubbles that show the reasons.

There are also ALA piecharts that show what sort of people try to get books banned, and why. I find it shocking and unsettling that the majority of challenges come from parents.

When I was younger, I hated it when someone suggested that I shouldn't read something. I would see it on the shelf, and it always seemed more tantalizing, more thrilling and exciting, because it had been deemed not quite right for me. No one ever told me that I could not read a book. But imagine if they had. Imagine if they had taken the book away, taken other ones as well, one by one, and put them somewhere tidied away and safe where I couldn't find them, where I wouldn't even know that they had ever existed. What a way to shrink the world.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week, read a book that some people think you shouldn't. Read it, and enjoy it, and take enormous, delighted pleasure in the fact that you can.

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