Celebrate Books The Memory of Mankind For the past 29 years during Banned Books Week, late September, librarians and educators unite to celebrate our freedom to read and heighten our awareness of the liberty to treasure the written word.
I fell in love with words in childhood, while raised in a teachers’ family I was exposed to the beauty of books at an early age. I devoured books voraciously until I reached adolescense when reading was decidedly uncool.
I renewed my passion once I moved abroad in my twenties. Words took on a new allure when the written word in English was not readily available while living in a francophone and germanic language country. Then books in my mother tongue were like gold.
For two years, after a severe whiplash accident, my eyes could not focus on words in any language. When I finally recovered and the letters on the page stopped wiggling, I developed an ever greater appreciation for books.
The intellectual freedom to access ideas, to express opinions and to read what I want is my birth right as an American citizen. Protected by the 1st Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, as part of the Bill of Rights, it is a privilege we often take for granted.
Today I spend a part of my day trying to convince teenagers to invest energy in discovering books. Maybe if students know the book I assign to read had once been banned, they will be lured into cracking open the cover.
It is amazing the number of books that have been on the hit list, including some of the greatest books ever written, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as, the Diary of Anne Frank, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Beloved by Toni Morrison and Color Purple by Alice Walker, to mention a few.
During the Holocaust and other troubling times in history, books were burned, which reminds us of the danger when restraints impose limits on cultures, races and religions.
Though many books are challenged due to language or content, few remained banned, like Adolf Hitler ‘s Mein Kampf which publishers refuse to reprint to prevent inciting right wing extremist’s violence with Hitler’s destructive ideology.
Ironically often times the religious zealots are the first to challenge books in public education even though the freedom to establish and to exercise religion, was the basis of the Bill of Rights on which our nation was founded. Puritans, Quakers and others left Europe in pursuit of place where they would be free to practice the religion of their choice.
Words can never be underestimated. They make humans distinguishable from animals. By comprehending the hopes, conflicts, aspirations, successes and failures of people in time and space, we can better understand the self. Without literature, education would have no articulated spirit and our function would be survival rather than aspiration.
The only positive outcome of making books taboo that I can foresee is enticing rebellious adolescents to turn on to literature, one “bad” word at time.