Bland Books Week

Once a year, people spend a week courageously defending books that were controversial fifty or a hundred years ago. Open Culture comes to the defense of such books as The Great Gatsby, The Call of the Wild, and 1984 against the massed forces trying to deny people’s access to them. The first was “challenged” at Baptist College in 1987, the second was burned by Nazis in 1933, and the third “challenged” in Florida in 1981. “Challenged” can mean that just one person went to a librarian or judge.

It’s actually a good sign if these people have nothing better to do; real book-banning by governments in the United States is practically non-existent today. The First Amendment and the courts’ consistently upholding it have seen to that. This could change; the pendulum is swinging back against free speech, and there’s a sizeable body of people who say the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to corporations (including most major book publishers) or protect spending money on speech.

Some banned-book lists include books that would-be censors have recently targeted, such as The Anarchist Cookbook. In a 2010 post, Open Culture mentions Mein Kampf. Attempts to censor it in the US haven’t gotten any traction, but it’s heavily restricted in much of Europe. This hasn’t prevented Europe from having a much bigger neo-Nazi problem than the US; it’s only given Hitler’s rant a mark of distinction. (Today I came across an article on a US campus newspaper’s website that argues it should be banned not for anything it advocates but because — the writer concludes from an English translation — it’s badly written.)

It’s easy to champion books against yesterday’s censors when no one disagrees with you. Defending unpopular books takes more courage, and defending the freedom to print books you despise takes commitment to principle and willingness to take heat.

2 Responses to “Bland Books Week”

  1. Tyler Hope Says:

    Here’s hoping that observing Banned Books Week now will help the masses recognize the importance of free speech and the dangers of censorship to this right which we hold so dear!

  2. Eyal Mozes Says:

    Very true. For most people, “defending freedom” means “defending the freedom to do things that I personally approve of”. Defending freedom of speech means “the freedom to express views I agree with”; freedom of reproductive choice means “freedom to make those choices regarding reproduction that I approve of”; etc. And of course, “defending freedom” in this sense means nothing.

    “Banned Books Week”, which could have been a meaningful opportunity to speak out against censorship, has become pretentious and totally meaningless because of this attitude.

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