On Banned Book Awareness Week
This week, Sept. 23-29, is Banned Book Awareness Week.
Banning books (along with other materials such as artwork) has been ongoing probably since mankind learned to put thoughts onto materials which could be viewed by others.
Archaeologists have unearthed hieroglyphics on which the images have been deliberately chiseled away.
And ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type printing press around 1440, and made the written word more accessible to more people, the banning of the written word undoubtedly accelerated.
In 2017, the American Library Association tracked 354 book challenges. Among the top 10 books challenged, three were challenged for their LGBT content, three for sexual content and one for gender identity.
Following the course of such challenges reveals 56 percent take place at libraries, 25 percent at schools and 16 percent at school libraries.
Of the book challenges, 42 percent are initiated by patrons of libraries and 32 percent by parents.
Challenges to and banning of books is censorship, pure and simple. And censorship is a means of depriving others from access to material which allows for individual judgment.
Censorship can be aimed at works that contain sexual, political or religious material whose value is best judged by individual readers rather than by a single person or group.
Over the centuries, a vast array of books and pamphlets have been banned or challenged.
“120 Banned Books” by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald and Dawn B. Sova catalogs many of the most “popular” banned books and works.
Among them are “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “1984,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” The Bible, “The Rights of Man” and “The Age of Reason” (both by Thomas Paine), The Koran, The Talmud, “An American Tragedy,” The Decameron, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Brave New World,” “Catch 22,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
It’s interesting the themes of two of these books relate to censorship and three are religious texts.
It would appear there is something in every written treatise that will offend someone.
It was just a few years ago a public library in Kentucky gained some notoriety because some members of the staff clandestinely removed certain books from the shelves because these individuals felt the content of those books was not suitable for others to read.
But for the most part, libraries and librarians are the protectors of the written word, making available all sorts of material to all sorts of readers.
Part of the mission statement of the ALA is “…to enhance learning and to ensure access to information for all.”
Censorship is the exact opposite of this goal.
Henry Louis Gates, a literary critic sai, “Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
But perhaps Potter Stewart, associate justice of the Supreme Court (1958-1981), summed it up best when he said, “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”
Banned Book Awareness week celebrates a society which has the confidence to allow all its citizens to read whatever they choose, a practice that censorship seeks to erode.
Share the confidence, read a banned book this week.
Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.