Why do banned books matter?
What is a book?
Sure, books can and are for entertainment purposes, for telling a story, for making us feel something… any number of things. A book is the writing by one (or more) people to an audience. There’s an intimacy to it; sure, it seems only one person/side is “talking,” but the reader brings in his or her life into the work too. It’s a dialogue.
To ban a book, then, is to ban a dialogue, a dialogue that can be filled with great knowledge and truth, controversial or not. While it is intuitive a book would be banned for something controversial, who has the right to deem something controversial? Where does this line of subjectivity lie?
Though we are fortunate to live in a democratic society built on the first amendment framework guaranteeing us rights of free speech in all forms, notably in the press for our purposes, as recently as in 2002 books have been banned in America. While many of our minds jump to such poster child books for controversy as The Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, others now considered pieces all have read were once banned.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Leaves of Grass, and even Where the Wild Things Are all at one point or another were banned.
What these banned books and so many others have given to society are virtually unreplaceable. We are a culture, a society, a species of stories. I cannot feel the hurt behind the Jim Crowe laws and the issues over the time of Uncle Tom’s Cabin from my armchair… until I sit down and read that novel. I feel every minute of suffering. I feel for my fellow human beings, and I ought to care. I ought to act. I ought to do something.
Is that not one of the most critical things we can do as part of our existence as human beings trying to contribute to society? Can we do much more than care, listen, and love, among other things? While certainly stories and novels can take facts and twist them and distort them, anyone and anything can. Stories have often begun socially critical and important dialogues that lead to radical improvements for the greater good.
By banning books, we ban that which makes us who and what we are. And that, my fellow readers, is simply wrong.
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