Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Book Week 2009

Welcome to Banned Book Week 2009 — the annual acknowledgment of how much effort libraries have to put into being as well-stocked as they are. Classic children's literature is placed in a bank vault to keep it out of innocent hands, threats of a fiery end to books that treat homosexuals with respect, and not even school textbooks, evaluated and vetted by educators themselves, are immune. Just looking at a list of challenged books might not have the same impact (and it seems the 2009 list isn't out as of today; they only have up to 2008), there's an interactive map of challenged books which gives a greater idea of the distribution of the problem, taken from the years 2007 to 2009. Yes, that's only two years' worth of challenges that fill up a U.S. map with little blue flags.

In case you're wondering, I've got kids. The most common argument is, "would you want your children to read this sort of {whatever}?" My answer is, yes, I'm pretty much OK with any book, provided that it done in a way to promote understanding. Destiny's mother bought her a big biography of Guns 'n' Roses' Slash — not my first choice of a good book for a thirteen-year-old, "shooting coke" is a Key Phrase according to Amazon — but Des wanted to read it, and as she went along we asked her about it, made sure she was looking at the rock-and-roll lifestyle through wiser eyes than glorifying it, and made sure she asked questions if she were confused. Nothing bad has happened, I don't know for sure what she took away from the book, and now she's reading those books about talking forest cats and the Twilight series. The kids I worry about are the ones who haven't read anything, and are getting their ideas from each other.

When I was a teen, I read Hunter S Thompson's Hell's Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; No One Here Gets Out Alive, the Morrison biography; a smattering of 60s sci-fi full of violence and sex, imagining a nude Dejah Thoris in great detail; and, frankly, quite a few Playboys and Penthouses. Other than those last ones (those were thanks to resourceful friends at school), all of the books came from my parents or other relatives. I was buying Soldier of Fortune magazine and Rolling Stone and a mish-mosh of Marvel comics titles with my allowance. None of this — nothing — has brought about my downfall, destroyed my life, hurt the people I love, or resulted in incarceration or institutionalization. If the news were full stories about how a book directly or indirectly caused death, destruction, loss of life and property, caused insanity or anarchy, I might stand up and take notice.

As Starrett said in the textbook investigation, a book can't cause anything to happen. The freedom of choice is how good things and bad things happen. A book may inform, it may contain knowledge that fills in the blanks about those various decisions, but it is still up to the individual to make an educated choice. I don't have a problem with Intelligent Design, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, The Joy of Sex, or Dworkin books in libraries: somebody will find that information valuable in learning how to lead their lives. While I may not agree with how they choose to use that information, it is not my place to try and manipulate their choices by limiting the information available to them. Censorship is bent on manipulating people's behavior by controlling what they know, a methodology that is perverse and cruel to the freedom-loving world we live in, and I cannot stand for it.

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