This week is Banned Books Week, so designated by the American Library Association, which created the week in the hopes of motivating us to celebrate our "freedom to read." The ALA keeps a list of the most frequently challenged books each year, including a list of banned "classics," and my guess is that a quick perusal of those lists would still shock most of us. There are the predictable ones, of course-- like Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (which clearly encourages people to become serial killers), Nabokov's Lolita (which clearly encourages people to become pedophiles), Orwell's 1984 (which clearly encourages people to read Animal Farm)-- in which one can easily reconstruct the arguments, however fear-mongering and conservative and erroneous, that were levelled against them. Then there are the seemingly vanilla texts-- like Milne's Winnie the Pooh and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea-- which just seem curiously undeserving of their proscription. Then there are the ones that, upon seeing them on the list, you find yourself secretly relishing the incendiery, subversive, revolutionary, salacious, or otherwise pot-stirring reputation that got them there in the first place -- like Sinclair's The Jungle, or Rushdie's Midnight's Children, or Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, or Woolf's Orlando. But there's another general category of entries, I think...
There are also titles on the list-- I'd put Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, perhaps also Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in this group-- which, although I wouldn't proactively solicit their banning, and although I wouldn't waste any lighter fluid to burn them, I also wouldn't be too sad if they went, well, unread. Does this mean I'm not really invested in "celebrating the freedom to read"? Am I engaging in some variant of good old-fashioned Sartrean bad faith here? Wasn't I just arguing a few days ago that I don't want to "police"?
Monica Edinger, over on The Huffington Post, wrote an article titled "Everyone's a Little Bit Book Bannerish" that offers at least some comfort in its suggestion that maybe, just maybe, even those of us who, as a matter of principle, "celebrate the freedom to read" still harbor a secret little Censor that we try to keep in the closet, but which rears its ugly head from time to time. I'd like to think thay my Inner Book-Banner is of an entirely different ilk than the stereotypical ones, prefering as I do instead to steer students, friends and generally literate people away from books in which I think the writing is terrible, or the ideas are stupid, or the style is juvenile... you know, for their own good. But, alas, that's exactly what the Standard Freedom-To-Read-Hating Censors do as well, and for exactly the same reasons, I suppose.
So, just for a moment, I'd like to encourage readers of this blog to go ahead and let their Inner Book-Banner out of the closet for a moment. Do tell: what books would you ban (let's assume you must choose a few)? And why? You are permitted, of course, to saddle your proscriptions with all manner of explanation and whatever other caveats might assuage your obvious hatred of the freedom to read.