When I was growing up in East Texas we didn’t have any money for books. My reading room was the small local library run by an organization of business professional women. To this moment, I can remember checking out my first two volumes — one was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days; the other was a primer on Greek and Roman mythology (don’t ask me why.) Years later, when I walked into the much larger library at the state college as a freshman, I was practically overwhelmed. I looked down row after row of books and periodicals and thought: “Wow! All this for me?!” Some of the best hours of my life were spent in that library. I even considered majoring in library science, so that I could be near those books.
Which is one reason it pains me today that even in this modern day and age, some folks in communities across America are saying: “No. That Book ISN’T For You” and for reasons that have nothing to do with the community, the school, or the reader — and everything to do with prejudice.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reports 326 attempts last year to remove or restrict books from school curricula and libraries. Add those to thousands of formal complaints filed with a library or school in the last two decades — complaints about a book’s content or appropriateness. Can you believe some people don’t want other people to read Brave New World, The Color Purple, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Kite Runner, A Wrinkle in Time, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Light in the Attic, the Harry Potter series, and — ironic if not surprising — Fahrenheit 451.
Think of it: some of the most inspiring and mind-opening words ever written, threatened with removal because they offended a self-deputized vigilante over who wants to deny an entire community’s curiosity and passion to learn.
Censorship is the enemy of truth — even more than a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us knowing the difference. This is one reason that on my public television broadcast, Moyers & Company, we call out the censors every time we can. And it’s why we’re so grateful to the ALA – as well as the librarians, writers, booksellers, publishers, and neighbors who stand with the Association in observing the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, taking place this week.
Banned Books Week reminds us of the foundation of our freedom — the First Amendment — and the freedom of all of us — including our kids — to read and think and nurture the life of the mind.
You can learn more about banned books and banned books week at BillMoyers.com, ala.org/bbooks, bannedbooksweek.org, or your local bookstore or library. Let’s tell the censors — nothing doing.
I’m Bill Moyers. And you read me right.
Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com
Banned Books Through the Ages
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The Arabian Nights or The Thousand and One Nghts by Sir Richard Burton
The Art of Love by Ovid
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Candide by Voltaire
The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland
Forever by Judy Blume
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Goup by Mary McCarthy
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
The Kaama Sutra of Vatsyayana by Sir Richard F. Burton and F.F. Arbuthnot
Lady Chattereley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson
Moll FLanders by Daniel Defoe
Pamela or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
Tropic Cancerby Henry Miller
Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller
Ulysses by James Joyce
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence