From The Washington Post:
If you tell anyone, I’ll deny it, but I’ve been irritated for a long time by Banned Books Week. Despite my unqualified support for the freedom to read, the annual celebration, which began Sunday, has always struck me as shrill and inaccurate. I know the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association and other fine sponsors are doing important, necessary work. I just wish Banned Books Week didn’t appear to exaggerate a problem that’s largely confined to our repressive past.
All week in bookstores and libraries around the country, you’ll see displays, banners and special events like the Drag Queen Story Hour at the Brooklyn Public Library on Wednesday. Central to these celebrations is the annual list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books. This year, like most years, that list includes: Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and other fantastic, award-winning novels that only the most ignorant and backward people would object to.
. . . .
Which is part of the problem. Are we winning any converts with this annual orgy of self-righteousness? The rhetoric of Banned Books Week is pitched at such a fervent level that crucial distinctions are burned away by the fire of our moral certainty, which is an ill that wide reading should cure not exacerbate.
And what books are actually, effectively “banned” in the United States nowadays? The titles on the Top 10 Most Challenged list, in fact, sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year. How many authors would kill to be “challenged” like that?
James LaRue, from the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, is ready for these quibbles even before I call him. He’s heard them before, but he answers my questions with the patience and clarity of a good librarian — which he once was.
“Who are we kidding?” I ask him. “Books aren’t ‘banned’ in this country anymore. The Supreme Court has made that impossible.”
But LaRue nudges me away from the legal meaning of the term “banned” to consider the lived experience of a vulnerable, lonely reader:
“There are so many places like in rural communities where you say, ‘Well, the book isn’t banned. It’s still been published. It’s still available on Amazon. It’s still in a bookstore.’ But let’s say you’re a young gay kid, and you go to your library, and David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’ has been removed, and so you don’t know that it’s there. You don’t have a credit card to get it from Amazon. You can’t hop in a car if you’re 14 years old and drive to a bookstore. So the ban is not a trivial thing. It’s a deliberate suppression of a viewpoint that has real consequences for people.”
. . . .
But what about the way Banned Books Week implicitly stigmatizes anyone who objects to a librarian’s or a teacher’s judgment? The vast majority of people who “challenge” titles are simply parents concerned about the age-appropriateness of books their children are being exposed to. Doesn’t Banned Books Week carelessly lump together the interested mother with the book-burning Nazi?
“If I say, ‘I don’t want my child to read this,’ you have the right to do that,” LaRue acknowledges. “But when you try to remove it from the library, you’re saying that other people’s children don’t have the right to read it.” That, he suggests, is the hallmark of an intolerant society.
Link to the rest at The Washington Post
PG suggests there are certain groups of people who enjoy the frisson that accompanies protests that stick it to the man without actually risking anything and protecting “vulnerable, lonely readers” without actually knowing any.
The biggest threat to libraries in “rural communities” is the lack of money to acquire books and keep the lights on. There’s also the inconvenient truth that a great many people who read are reading on the internet. Spending a dollar to improve internet access might bring more benefits to vulnerable, lonely readers than spending a dollar on a physical library.