Friday, April 17, 2009

Give Me Liberty, Give Me Books

I love Shel Silverstein. I love Stephen King. I love Roald Dahl. Mark Twain, Maurice Sendak, John Steinbeck, Madeline L'Engle, Jean Craighead George, Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, and Aldous Huxley are all pretty good too. Not to mention Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, J.D. Salinger, and Toni Morrison. But besides being on the "read and enjoyed" shelf in my library, what these writers have in common is shocking. Each have had a book challenged or banned in the last twenty years. If not for the efforts of people like Judith Krug, these books might have permanently disappeared.

Judith Krug, Director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom and founder of Banned Books Week, passed away this week at the age of 69. She worked tirelessly to ensure freedom of speech for writers like me, and to make sure that some of my favorite books stayed on shelves across the country. For that, I admire her greatly and am saddened at her leaving.

We often take these freedoms for granted, but must remember that they are never competely safe. There will always be a voice speaking for supression. This very same week, we heard about a "computer glitch" which caused the books of homosexual writers to be labeled "adult," regardless of whether or not the books contained sexually explicit material. I wonder what Judith would have said about that fiasco. 

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (which was itself censored at one time) imagined a world where all books were illegal, and firemen burned rather than put fires out. It was a horrific world, populated by the emotionally and intellectually immature. As the protagonist, Guy Montague, slowly awakens from his stupor, he finds himself stuck in an unsatisfying, artless life where the only option out is suicide. Bleak, yes. But imagine your own life without To Kill a Mockingbird or James and the Giant Peach.

In 2009, Banned Books Week will be celebrated from September 25th to October 2nd. This year, be sure to read a banned or challenged book. Better yet, give one to a friend or family member that might otherwise not read it. You might not like the book or agree with its ideas, but you'll be celebrating your hard-earned freedom and enriching your intellectual life. Judith would be proud.