I’ve been writing a great deal about books recently since the Great American Read has started broadcasting on PBS. I actually gave a real voice to the title of this post when I was a teenager. I’d gone to my local library and asked for a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, a book I’d heard about in an advanced English class and was told the library didn’t have a copy because the book was, currently, on the banned list.
This wasn’t the 1950’s McCarthy era, folks. This was 1977.
Until this time I never even knew a book COULD be banned from public libraries or from being sold in commercial book stores. Since this was decades before the Internet made everything sellable ( banned or not, legal or not) I had no recourse and wasn’t able to read the book until I got to college and it was part of another advanced english course as required reading. My college, apparently, had no problem selling it to its students in the college bookstore. In all honesty, when I finally did read it, I didn’t see what the big deal had been about. If the powers who be banned the book in an effort to try and protect teenagers from reading about and then having sex by not allowing them to read about mutual and consenting sex, they were doing a piss-poor job, because I’d already read a much passed around copy of The Happy Hooker as a freshman in middle school. Every kid in my class had thumbed through it- some had even underlined a few passages. As far as I know, no one who read the book grew up to become a prostitute or had sex with an animal. That whole “letting kids have access to books like that gives them leeway to have sex” is just stupid in my opinion. Again, this was the 1970’s. We didn’t have access to internet porn; R rated movies were enforced, and cigarettes came with warning and age labels. I wasn’t even allowed to purchase a COSMO magazine until I was 18 and could show proof of age.
Things are different now, aren’t they? Not better, just….different.
Back to the banned books, the topic of this little conversation, one sided though it is.
Censorship is a concept I have a great deal of trouble with. As an American, but more as a writer. Freedom is very precious to me – in all aspects of the word. The dictionary defines censorship thus: the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.
Now, I get the threat to security argument. There is no way the general public should have – in my opinion – access to classified documents where the publishing of such could endanger lives or the security of this nation or anyone in it. That’s a given for me. No argument on my side.
But that’s were my opposition to censorship ends.
The mutual exchange of information is what makes us an elevated species. We think. We have ideas. We share those ideas with likeminded – and not likeminded – individuals via speech, in the media, and yes, in books. As far as I know, human beings are the only species on the planet with a written language. And a beautiful written language, at that. Words mean things. Words form things, like philosophies, goals, opinions, theories, conclusions. The exchange of ideas is a freedom we have in this country, where in other countries it can be used as the reason for imprisonment or a death penalty.
To censor someone’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas from being written and shared with others because a collective body of elected officials deems them obscene, politically unacceptable or against the norm is not the definition of freedom of speech by any measure. This freedom’s a biggie, folks. It’s defined in the bedrock of our Constitution.
Again, this is just my opinion and no one has to agree with it or me. But I do have the right – morally, legally, ethically, and spiritually, to state it, write it, and share it. That’s what being an American means.
I’ll get off the proverbial soapbox now.
This past week, the American Booksellers Association celebrated their annual Banned Books Week by posting 10 of the most challenged and banned books of the year.
This is the list and you can read about the books yourself. I was very surprised at several of those that made this list.
In the past, other books that are now considered part of our great American collective and which were banned included: A Light in the Attic, Forever, by Judy Blume, Cujo by Stephen King, The Catcher in the Rye, and even something as wonderful as Charlotte’s Web was banned because reading about the death of Charlotte was considered to be too emotionally harmful and upsetting to children. The idiots that made who call completely missed the entire premise of the book.
I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about censorship, and I’m sure the individuals who make and try to enforce the tactic think they are doing a service. Obviously, those individuals are not writers because if there is one thing I know – and know without a shadow of a doubt – writers are writers because they have stories to tell that will uplift some, enable others to lift themselves,, entertain the masses, and provoke thought and actions in others. Writers write for the joy of writing, for the happiness it brings them and others. And in this country one of our basic tenants is the pursuit of three things one of which is happiness.
Off the soap box now and off to exercise my freedom to write.
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