Banned Books Week is upon us, the time for libraries to highlight and push those items that have been removed from reading lists, challenged in libraries and schools, and otherwise kicked around because something in them made someone somewhere feel icky. Then I read a blog post on the website Bookriot saying that we should not celebrate banned books and I have to wonder about the message of it all.
So, should we celebrate banned books? Is the week just a massive marketing campaign designed to push books rather than the champion of intellectual freedom it started as?
Honestly, I’d rather talk about how Santa kicked Jesus off the Christmas tree or how Hollywood vomits all over Comicon each year. The argument itself, that Banned Books Week is commercial, is in a way flawed if based on the idea that a controversial book sells more. If that were the case, publishers and online retailers should be jumping to include BBW because money.
The main proponents of Banned Books Week, libraries, are giving the books away for free. Even Amazon is not using the event to sell books, which is right up there with water turning to blood and swarms of locust coming down to take out the crops. The only events that have popped up on my feed are from institutions known to project the idea of information literacy, agency, and freedom and from authors doing the same.
Movements need tent poles, figureheads, and champions to cement the ephemeral ideas into the minds of the people. The idea that celebrating controversial books will take away from the need to culture the populace with intellectual freedom is like saying celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr takes away from the message of the (ongoing) Civil Rights Movement. Humans and works of art are worth celebrating, warts and all, for their achievements, places in history, and the way they defy convention. That a book causes enough dissension that it be removed from a community says something about the community and how the intellectual freedom is handled there as well as the reason for the removal. By highlighting, celebrating a book for being banned, we celebrate and congratulate our own community for not doing the same, for being more progressive. Then they donate money to keep us going because that's how that works when the last thing a library has left is the flaunting of itself as a status symbol while it works to serve the majority low income population that need the library. Make your books and your community heroes, sell the message of freedom through them, and try not to get so cynical that you forget you are there to help further the message of equality of information.
The idea that you can read what you want, when you want, and how you want is pretty new in the long span of human existence. People once got burned and/or hung for what might just be a drunken Saturday night on Twitter to you. Now more than ever before, the human race is able of so much communication that we take it for granted much of the time, so pointing out cases and books where that communication was halted is important and vital to the veracity of any further communication.
Celebrate every book you want, focus on them with displays and cute Ghostbuster-style “no” symbols and tell the world that somewhere, someone does not want you or anyone else to read that. That will be enough to get entitled people interested in the message, at least.