Today kicks off Banned Books Week 2011. From September 24 through October 1, bookstores and libraries across the country are celebrating the freedom to read and speaking out against censorship. The American Library Association has an excellent list of banned and challenged books here.
Books get challenged or banned for all sorts of reasons — language, sexual situations, you name it. Sometimes the reasons for objecting are just plain laughable: Harry Potter encourages witchcraft!
The problem here is this: if a parent doesn’t think a book is appropriate for his or her own children, it is that parent’s right to deny his or her children the right to read that book. When said parent then reaches into the town library, or the school library, and says “And no one else’s kids can read this, either,” that is where censorship comes in. That parent is now making decisions for other familes and other households, and that is the part that is Not Okay.
This summer saw the rise of #YAsaves on twitter, after a Wall Street Journal article declared young adult literature to be “too dark.” Toward the end of the article, the writer pitted the book industry against parents and argued in favor of censorship. (I put up my own response, if you need a refresher.) If you look at the ALA’s lists, many of the books on there are YA. I suppose this isn’t that much of a surprise, since many of the challenges come from people trying to keep books out of schools.
The argument that quite often follows goes something like, “if parents want their kids to read Book X, they can just go to the bookstore and buy it for their kids. It doesn’t have to be in the library.”
Point the first: public libraries are public for a reason. My tax dollars pay for the books on those shelves just as much as anyone else’s. School libraries aren’t open to the public as a whole, but one parent, or one group of parents, ought not have the power to deny other people’s children the right to read the books of their choice.
Point the second: go read Seanan McGuire’s “Across the Digital Divide.” She’s talking about access to ebooks vs print books here, but the point also stands for free access to books in libraries. Some people simply cannot afford to buy books. So no, “just pop over to the bookstore and drop $10 on your own copy” is not at all as breezy-simple as it sounds for every family. The nearest bookstore might be miles away. A trip to it might mean finding a ride, paying for gas the family can’t afford to burn, scraping together not only the price of the book, but also the price of bus fare or other transportation to get there in the first place.
Books are important. Books save lives. We should never take away anyone else’s freedom to read.