I stayed up into the late hours of the night finishing the first Harry Potter book. I read it voraciously, finishing in just a couple of days. I couldn’t wait to talk to my friends about it. Imagine my surprise when one of my close friends told me that he hadn’t read it. I offered him my copy. He reluctantly refused — his mother wouldn’t let him read it because she believed it promoted witchcraft.
Since the birth of the printed press, there have been those who want to restrict access to the dangerous ideas found in books. According to the American Library Association, at least 326 titles were removed or challenged in schools in 2011, with many more instances of censorship going unreported every year.
Among the books most frequently challenged include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, on the grounds of offensive language and sexual content, in spite of its brilliant treatment of the struggles of Native Americans and minority teenagers. Also on the list of books people wanted pulled from library shelves are To Kill a Mockingbird, and Fahrenheit 451 (ironically, a book about the perils of censorship).
Censorship is all around us. In Tuscon, AZ, all books about Chicano history were removed because they violated an Arizona law that prohibited teaching “racially divisive courses.” In China, a new law was just implemented to punish people who “spread rumors” online.
A library is probably the most dangerous place on Earth. You may run across ideas that conflict with your beliefs. You may be incited to break the law. Without controversial books, we could never challenge ourselves or change our minds. Censorship corrodes the mind and dulls the populace.
This week, read something that someone doesn’t want you to read. It might just change everything.
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Jonny Eberle is a freelance writer in Tacoma, WA. You can learn more about Banned Books Week at www.bannedbooksweek.org. For more subversive ideas, follow Jonny on Twitter.
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