Saturday, October 6, 2007

Banned Book Week: September 29 - October 6

As a child, I was a voracious reader. I left the children's section of the library at a very young age (and am making up for it now by reading youth and juvenile fiction — let that be a lesson to you, young reader!).

My parents never really told me what I could read, although my dad thought I was a little young at age 7 to understand "pregnant lips" in Sonnets from the Portuguese (though I suspect it's because my questions embarrassed him). I always showed my library books to my mom, who, when I was 11, did tell me she thought I should wait until I was older to read Helter Skelter.

Because of that freedom, I cannot imagine someone else telling me what I should be allowed to read.

Public libraries are the great equalizer, giving people access to many books, periodicals — and, through them, ideas. It's not up to the library to police its readers, but up to the readers (or, in the case of young readers, their parents) to determine what they themselves will read.

In short: if you don't like it, don't read it — and don't tell me what I can read. And by banning books from the public library, "concerned citizens" are doing just that.

Intellectual freedom is not something only the wealthy may attain because they can afford to buy the books banned from the libraries. And despite arguments to the contrary, most rational people can tell the difference between Heather Has Two Mommies and Hustler magazine.

The argument that public funds should not be used to purchase "objectionable material" is ludicrous. I've read government budgets. Talk about obscene! Pork barrel projects alone are more objectionable than And Tango Makes Three. A close look at the content of your local government budget or capital improvements program report can shock you more than Are you There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

I'm not even keen on computer filters that prevent people from accessing Web sites. Sensitive filters prevent access to important and perfectly tame materials, kind of like the e-mail filter that "junked" my e-mail to Carole because I used the word "love." (Really.) Library computers should be in a very public place in plain sight of librarians and other library patrons — who, if someone goes somewhere inappropriate and starts watching live, er, "things you wouldn't watch in front of your grandmother," will object and the offender will be stopped.

If you think your fellow patrons will be silent, just remember: these are the same people who have tried to ban Go Ask Alice and everything Harry Potter.

The week of September 29 through October 6 is Banned Book Week, and the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom suggests people all read one or more of the books on the Top 10 Banned Books list.

I read The Chocolate War when I was a young adult, and I was amazed at its power. I also read three books that were bumped from this year's list: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men and The Catcher in the Rye.

I plan to visit my library tomorrow to check out one of the books on this year's list — or on the list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000. Hopefully I'll have to put the book on hold because it's been checked out already.

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