Banned Books Week is a week-long celebration of the freedom to read. For many librarians this is a significant event. I am the exception. I don’t think much of Banned Books Week.
Just as telling someone they can’t do something is the surest way to make sure it gets done, banning a book often results in it being read by many who would have otherwise ignored it.
The problem is that very few books are banned. And the books that are banned—well sometimes they’re not very interesting at all.
When I was younger I used to get a big kick out of reading books that had been banned. But after a while I asked myself, would I be reading this books if it wasn’t banned? Candidly, I have no desire to reread Catcher in the Rye just because it was banned.
This summer’s publishing phenomenon, 50 Shades of Grey, is incredibly popular. Undoubtly some of the popularity of this book can be attributed to the fact that some public libraries and bookstores refused to purchase the book because of its sexual content. But there are books far sexier than 50 Shades of Grey sitting on bookshelves unread and collecting dust. Check out Daniel DeFoe’s Moll Flanders—it’s literary Viagra.
The biggest impediment to the freedom to read is that people don’t read often enough or widely enough. Reading is often considered school work (i.e book reports and term papers). Reading often takes a back seat to more active activities such as sports or exercise ( i.e. “stop reading and get outside in the sunshine”). Sometimes reading is negatively stereotyped (i.e. book worm). Some people think reading is only worthwhile when it leads to better SAT scores and admission to college. Others think that reading is less valuable than pragmatic experience.
Overt restrictions, such as banning a book, don’t really hinder reading. They really encourage it. Unnoticed biases and stereotypes about readers and reading receive far less attention than Banned Books Week, but are for more detrimental to the freedom to read.