This is Banned Books Week, a week to raise awareness of the problem of books being banned in the United States. I read about local efforts to raise awareness in my local newspaper, The Madison Courier.
Books that have been hidden, challenged or banned are being highlighted this week during Banned Books Week. The annual celebration of all banned literary works happens during the last full week of September.
Nathan Montoya, co-owner of Village Lights Bookstore in downtown Madison, said the bookstore celebrates Banned Books Week every year.
“We’re proud to say that every time we begin assembling our Banned Books Week displays, we find that we already have most of the top challenged titles on our shelves,” he said.
There is just one minor problem; no books have been banned in the United States, at any level of government for many years, as Mr. Moytoya admits.
Montoya said that no literary work has been banned by the federal or state government since the famed Allen Ginsburg poem “Howl” was banned in 1957. The poem was banned because of its explicit references to drug use and homosexuality. Montoya said that today, books are banned on a much smaller level.
“We do it to ourselves,” Montoya said.
What in the world is he talking about? We ban ourselves from reading certain books?
Local libraries, school libraries and book stores often ban books they don’t think are appropriate, Montoya said.
“We do such a good job of restricting our own freedoms. It’s a problem that will not go away. And, of course the books that we have are not just books banned in this country, but works banned around the world,” he said.
Village Lights, along with several area libraries will have displays, in honor of Banned Books Week.
Linda Brinegar, Media Specialist for Madison Consolidated Schools, said she’s putting together a display at the front of the school.
Brinegar said that in her time as a librarian she has found that books aren’t so much banned as they are challenged. A challenged book is one that has been attempted to be removed or restricted, because of objections from a person or group, she said.
“(This week) brings an awareness to the readers’ choices,” Brinegar said. “They have access to a wide variety of reading materials.”
It is not that the government is banning us from reading books, it is that libraries are sometimes asked not to stock certain books or other materials that might be deemed inappropriate for the patrons of the library. This is not the same as banning books, nor is it really denying access to reading materials that anyone might want.
The truth is that parents have every right in the world to object if they believe that there is a book in the school library that is not appropriate for children of their age level. They may have good reason not to want their first or second grader to have access to a sexually explicit or violent book. The local library is funded by local taxpayers. They might want some control over what they are paying for. They may not want books that they consider inappropriate paid for with their tax dollars. And, I hope that I don’t need to add that if I happened to own a book store, I can sell whatever books I please. If I don’t like a certain author and prefer not to sell his books, that would be entirely my business. Again, in none of the cases I mentioned are books or any other material really being denied to anyone who wants to read or view them.
So, if there are no books actually being banned in the United States, what is the point of Banned Books Week? I don’t know. There is, of course, a need to be vigilant. We do not ban books in the United States right now, but this country is very much the exception. In many parts of the world the idea that people should be allowed to read whatever they want is still considered to be controversial, and who can tell what the situation here will be like twenty years from now. Nevertheless, I don’t think the greatest danger to freedom of expression in this country comes from parents who do not want their children to read Catcher in the Rye or Captain Underpants. I think the greatest threats to our freedom are from the sort of tolerant. leftists who think that Banned Books Week is a terrific idea, and then go on to ban conservative or Christian books.
So, maybe Banned Books Week has some use, even if it is something of a humbug. I just wish the people promoting it didn’t come across as a bunch of self-righteous doofuses who strut around proclaiming their support of the freedom to read against the non-existent mobs who are gathering to ban books and burn down libraries.
Oh, and it would also help if the American Library Association didn’t consider freedom of expression to include allowing people to watch pornography on library computers.
By the way, I wonder if Mr. Montoya stocks The Turner Diaries. There’s a real banned book, if ever there was one. Maybe I should ask.