Banned Books Week (September 27-October 4) is a celebration of the freedom of choice, and, more specifically, the freedom to read. It is a moment for people to remember that even though some books may be challenged for containing inappropriate material or having an alternative viewpoint, intellectual freedom is a basic right afforded to every American citizen.
Banned Books Week this year has come at an interesting time for me, as the two books I happen to be reading right now have connections to Banned Books Week. The first one is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, a history of the westward expansion of the United States from a Native American viewpoint. Written using the actual words of various Native Americans whenever possible, it is a scathing account of the greed and prejudice of the United States government as it both made and flagrantly broke treaties with the various Indian tribes whenever it suited them. This book was removed from a school in Wild Rose, WI in the 1974 by a school administrator who condemned the book for being “slanted” and “un-American”. This particular instance was an example of the uproar that this book caused as it contained a viewpoint contrary to the popularized “history” of the American West.
The other book I’m currently reading is the Tommyknockers by Stephen King. It is about an evil that is being slowly unearthed in a central Maine forest, affecting the townspeople of Haven and bringing out village secrets that have long been hidden. In 2004, this particular novel was considered for removal (among other horror novels) from the Questa school library in Taos, NM, but the school board ultimately allowed it to remain in circulation. While it is not a tough stretch to imagine why a Stephen King novel may be considered objectionable material in some circles (Tommyknockers is no different, let me tell you), to remove it completely from consideration to any reader is infringing upon their intellectual freedom.
Chances are that someone, somewhere may have disagreed with the material that you are currently reading, but, as Ben Franklin said, “"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." No matter what you are reading, be happy not only that you can read it, but that you were able to choose to read it. Now, go, be Intellectually Free!
(photo by Simen Svale Skogsrud)