Honoring Banned Books Week

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By Brian Feinblum, Media Connect CMO

While recently purchasing a mug with a theme of showcasing famous books that have been banned, I started to realize that we need to pay attention to what’s happening to books today.  The new form of book bans comes from commerce in retail outlets, such as Barnes & Noble or from social media outlets that won’t permit the discussion of certain books.  It’s not so much a government, a school or a library that bans books, though some still do, but it’s other powerful forces that potentially limit which books get sold or which books the new digital media permits awareness of.

Book bans happen every day all around us. We may not be aware of them, but they occur somewhere every single day.

The mug features Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1984, Animal Farm, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, Tropic of Cancer, The Catcher in the Rye, Origin of Species, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other great books.  But some books that get banned today do not become classics or best-sellers.  They die a quiet death because some entity decided a book’s content offends someone or contradicts a value it holds to be higher.  Books that are banned today are often not seen. They go under not a loud storm of protests, but under a quiet click of a button.

I like my banned books mug. It reminds me – and others – that books should not be banned and that we can never think that someone, somewhere isn’t trying to ban a book.  Stories, organizations, individuals, schools, libraries, and governments – for any reason, anywhere will ban a book that it doesn’t approve of.  Even in this day and age, where books can be sold by anyone, anywhere, we have attempts by the powers that be to shun certain voices.

Banning books is nothing new.  For centuries, various powers wanted opposing voices shunned.  Religious, political, and business interests have always opposed certain authors and books.  We get offended, feel challenged, or fear our values are being displaced by certain books, so we respond reflexively and look to hide, dispose of, or admonish the voices that contradict our views and beliefs.

Books have long been censored.  “Censorship was present almost as soon as printing was developed by Gutenberg in the mid-15th century, “says The History of the Book in 100 Books; the Complete Story, from Egypt to e-book by Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad.  “Ironically, the first attempt was made in 1471 by the scholar Niccolo Perotti, who proposed a system of centralized control to ensure that texts were well edited, but the Utopian proposal was not accepted.”

Citizens may lazily think book banning is a thing of the past.  They assume that everything is available online and that one way or another one can access what he or she wants.  But what if you don’t know a book exists or where to find it?  What if the major sites disallow a book’s sale or discussion?  It goes on today.

Barnes & Noble has a Nook policy that gives it free range to not sell a book if it doesn’t like the content.  Facebook and Twitter try to regulate speech and the content of posts.  Campuses and libraries often don’t carry certain books because they oppose specific content.  It happens all of the time.

“The most famous of the attempts to control reading through censorship was the production of the Catholic Index Liborum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) promulgated in 1559 by Pope Paul IV,” said Cave and Ayad.

“It forbade Catholics to read books on the index, unless given specific permission, and it listed individual books and, frequently, the complete works of banned writers.  The lists of course, changed over the centuries, the last edition was published in 1948, and the index was formally abolished under Paul VI in 1966.”

Banned Books Week is honored September 24-30 this year.  It was launched 35 years ago in response to a sudden surge in the number of book challengers in schools, bookstores, and libraries.

Banned Books Week is endorsed by Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.  Contributors include Pen America, Project Censored and ASJA.  Sponsors include American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Association of American Publisher, AG, DLDF, CBLDF, People for the American Way Foundation, National Council of Teachers of English, and the Association of American University Presses.

For more information, consult. www.bannedbooksweek.org.

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