This week is Banned Books Week, which celebrates the freedom to read and the First Amendment. In an age when more information is available than ever thanks to the internet, Banned Books Week highlights issues of censorship and reminds us why free and open access to information is an essential part of our society. Banned Books Week puts intellectual freedom — “the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular” — in the spotlight.
Since literature has existed, there have been calls to ban it. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato argued in his Republic that the poetry of Homer — his Iliad and the Odyssey were part of a young (male) Athenian citizen’s education — and the plays of the great tragic poets should be banned from his ideal state because they taught falsehoods about the gods and offered poor models of proper behavior and virtue. Inappropriate content — because that content is judged as sexually explicit or containing “offensive language” or material “unsuited to any age group” — remains a top reason that books end up on the banned lists of school curriculum and libraries. Fears run deep about the power of words to lead young minds astray.
But calls to challenge and ban books have their uses. Sometimes nothing succeeds like a little negative publicity to remind us of why we need books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm and many other classics and more recent works.
Photo by Somerset Public Library
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