Every September, libraries across the nation put up displays of favorite books. You might see Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” or John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Maybe “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Catch-22.” Or “The Lord of the Flies” and “1984.”
There could be classics by Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, Toni Morrison and Ken Kesey. That old Civil War tome, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.” And a favorite of schoolchildren, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild.”
What do these books have in common, other than being literary masterpieces?
They have all been banned or challenged by people who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what we should – and should never – read.
Banned Books Week runs Sept. 21- 27 this year. Rather than celebrating banning books, the week honors Americans’ freedom to read.
Or would you prefer someone telling you what’s good for you and what isn’t? Does some group’s religious or political beliefs take precedence over your own? Do you as a parent want to abdicate your duty to supervise your children’s upbringing, including their reading material, in favor of someone with different beliefs about what is appropriate?
Those are the questions you should ask as you think about the pleasure you experienced reading a “banned” book. Did it make you think? Some people would hope that never happens.
Banned Books Week reminds us not to take the freedom to read for granted. There are people eager to tell us – and libraries and bookstores – what we can read, and what we should be forbidden to read. Another word for that is censorship. And there’s no place for it in America.
Of course some books contain viewpoints offensive to some readers. The simple solution? Don’t read the book. Offensive content in someone’s eyes doesn’t give anyone the right to keep a book away from the rest of the world.
Banned Books Week celebrates open access to the expression of ideas, even those out of the mainstream. It means that what you like to read may not be what I like to read, but neither one of us has the right to prevent the other from reading what we want. As the old saying goes, that’s why they make chocolate and vanilla.
You can’t think for yourself when restraints govern the information available. That’s why newspapers cherish press freedom, and why our country’s founders enshrined it in the Constitution.
So we urge you, this week especially, to visit your library or bookstore and pick up a book someone doesn’t want you to read. Celebrate your right to think for yourself.