Sunday, September 30, 2012

Freedom to Read

September 30-October 6 is Banned Book Week. A week were bibliophiles celebrate the freedom to read.

 I am against censorship. Full stop.

There is just something wrong in the notion that some second party can take an artist's work and determine what is good and bad. Either you take the artist's full vision, or you just don't take it at all. Now, don't let this get confused with appropriateness. I am not saying that we should expose 4 year olds to 1984.  And I am not saying that every person has to read or like every single book ever written. But a lot of books get banned because they deal with issues that we just don't want to talk about. One of the things that I love about libraries it that they really are collectors of the human stories. On the shelves are stories of different times and places and cultures and human experiences. Are we really wanting to walk through through the stacks labeling each work, each human experience; good, bad, good, bad, bad, good?  Collection management is not easy and so not a joke. Appropriate, inappropriate, good, bad, are all subjective terms. Freedom of speech, the freedom to read means that there are going to be somethings that we disagree with, but we rather have disagreements than empty shelves.

Here are some favorite quotes from some favorite books that more often than not, find themselves on banned book lists:

1. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  This is the book that I am most protective of, To Kill a Mockingbird is close second, but I usually don't have to defend Atticus as much as I do Holden. And honestly, I am a little  tired and just weary of having to defend this book, but it get so misquoted to me all the time. I actually heard someone say that they didn't like Catcher because Holden kills himself at the end (for the record Holden is very much alive at the end of the book). So here we go, for the 100th time:  This will be my favorite book until the day I die because it was the first book that taught me that books have the power to change lives.  I first read this book as an unhappy teenager living in a world that told me that conformity was better than happiness. And just reading that being an unhappy teenager isn't a failure of your humanity,  that there have been unhappy teenagers in the past asking the same questions I had, and they survived through those problems, was life changing. Everyone should have a book that changed their life, a book that seemed to find them when they needed it the most, a book that made you feel not so alone in the world. This is mine . 

“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.” 

2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I honestly don't have time for people who haven't read this book. 
“I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.” 

3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
“Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you's gwyne to git well agin.” 

4. Perks of Being a Wallflower byStephen Chbosky
“So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” 

5. A Winkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
“Believing takes practice.” 

6. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.” 

7. The Giver by Lois Lowry.
“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It's the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” 

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” 

9. 1984 by George Orwell
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” 

10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?”


  1. You have to defend To Kill a Mockingbird? Wow, I read that for school in Jr. High. I think I had to read it 3 or 4 different times for school. It is one of the few books on your above list that I own. I really don't understand what would get it banned. (Which I suppose you are saying about most of the books on your list)

    PS: I've read 4 books on that list.

  2. Hooray for freedom of the press! Excellent words, excellent books, excellent thoughts.