Well, it's that time again: The American Library Association's Banned Books Week. This year's event runs from September 27 through October 4. I try to keep both my personal life and my politics out of this blog for the most part, but come on--I work in book publishing. The idea of banning books, of limiting people's access to information and entertainment and beauty and discomfort and thought, chills me to the bone. To me, it says that the person banning the books doesn't trust readers to think critically about the things they read. And if that's the case, then in my humble opinion those book banners should spend their time teaching critical thinking skills rather than removing books from libraries and classrooms. Books are not dangerous. Books are glorious. I hope everyone takes the time to celebrate Banned Books Week by supporting freedom of speech and free access to the full range of available literature however they choose to do so.
I kicked off my celebrations on Sunday by going to the opening of the Lexington Children's Theatre's production of The Giver, adapted from the book (#14 on the list of most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000) by Lois Lowry, who is number 7 on the list of Most Frequently Challenged Authors of 2007. Lexingtonians should check out the show; it runs through this weekend.
I'm continuing my celebration by reading To Kill a Mockingbird (#41, 1990-2000), by Harper Lee. I can't imagine anyone wanting to ban this book--it's so moving, so heartwarming. It gives me such joy to read this book. (I've got a huge crush on Atticus, for one thing.) Anyway, I will continue to read dangerous literature such as this, and encourage any children I might have to read dangerous literature and think critically about it. Gems such as To Kill a Mockingbird should always be available, to anyone who might be interested.
Here's the really political bit:
I was appalled to discover yesterday that Sarah Palin tried to take steps to ban books from the public library in Wasilla, AK, when she was mayor. I double-checked, because my source wasn't terribly reliable, and it was confirmed by this Time Magazine article. The relevant paragraph is slightly more than halfway through the article; I've copied and pasted it here.
"Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. 'She asked the library how she could go about banning books,' he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. 'The librarian was aghast.' That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving 'full support' to the mayor."
Even if she was caving to pressure from her constituents, that's just not acceptable to me. I just... No. Seriously, now. No.
*EDIT: After some further checking, it looks like the issue has been somewhat exaggerated. This ABCNews story contains a few quotes from the librarian in question, and the conversation never progressed beyond "what if...." However, "Palin has acknowledged she twice raised the issue in 1996 of how books could be removed from the shelves." To me, that's still damning. Why would you inquire about how (twice!) unless you were thinking of following up with action?
*EDIT, again: It occurs to me that I was inclined to doubt my sources and double-check my facts because I was taught to think critically about what I read, not to just take something at face value because it's in print. Book banners, take note: if I had simply believed the first source I saw, I would have unfairly accused Palin of actually attempting to remove specific books from the library, and not bothered to see if the evidence backed it up. That would be wrong. This sort of skepticism and critical thinking is exactly what is damaged by book-banning.