A month ago was Banned Books Week, in which libraries, bookstores, and other organizations celebrated our constitutionally-protected right to read. Though fairly uneventful here at Indigo (save a well-stocked display of surprisingly-challenged books and handy information), it has left me with an amplified sense of the duty that a distributor of books has to the community.
If most of us here really believe in deep societal change, why keep titles like Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto in stock?
Last year I was in contact with Pat Leach, director of Lincoln City Libraries, trying to come up with slightly more grandiose activities to put on in the store. Although I completely abdicated any attempt to do something creative with her information, I did ponder on her suggestion that “Banned Books” week be changed to “Freedom to Read” week. She mentioned that many people are confused and ask things like “You guys ban books here?” At first I laughed, but then got to more pondering; wouldn’t we really be banning books by not carrying influential books just because of their content? Where should we draw the line on vulgarity vs. art, or banning a book of “dangerous” opinion, for that matter?
Indigo Bridge may be especially susceptible to this, because unlike many other retailers, our stock is largely directed by the staff, meaning that personal taste inevitably has sway on our selection. I think we have a pretty good mind for fairness nonetheless. Although crazy lefties abound in our personnel, the politics section contains plenty of titles by conservatives like Gingrich and Mark Levin. We’ve got Naked Lunch and Clockwork Orange to mention only a couple of our classic titles rife with vulgarity. Alright, so maybe our selections on the environment are almost all about combating global warming and preserving the eco-system, but after all, the amount of “global-warming-is-a-hoax” books we carry about corresponds to the percentage of scientists who think that.
Why not just only carry books that fit with our collective visions? If most of us here really believe in deep societal change, why keep titles like Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto in stock? The value of freedom is something everyone agrees on, although different conceptions of freedom can be night and day. Allowing someone to read whatever they want and decide their opinion for themselves is fundamental to a democracy. Obama-bots are as without foundation as Glen-Beck-a-trons; that is to say, no opinion can be valid unless you understand your opinions in the context of every piece of information at your disposal. So, for us to limit the information we distribute based on what we believe is as detrimental to us as it is to those who disagree with us.
Certainly the same freedom must apply to fiction as well. Literature is “the lie through which we tell the truth”. Sexuality, violence, vulgarity, etc., are all a part of our world just as are love and decency. I recall reading Shiloh in elementary school where the main “bad” character uses swear words. Our teacher posed the fact that in real life, mean people don’t usually say “darn it!” or “shucks!”. Even a work like The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, easily the most gut-wrenching work of literature I’ve ever read, are valuable not because they reflect real-life (Sade has been sighted as the father of surrealism in fact), but because they present a brilliantly conceived work of art and a masterful exposition of a philosophy. I’m not saying you should let your young adolescent read something like this, I’m saying that the greatest art isn’t always, if even usually, pristine and romantic.
It’s the fear that their children will succumb to ideas that aren’t theirs that is the real reason behind censorship
Having said all that, it seems apparent that fear of something beyond just obscenity and various “isms” is at play. Looking at the statements of many community members who want to take certain books off of the shelf, it’s the fear that their children will succumb to ideas that aren’t theirs that is the real reason behind censorship. No matter how much parents want to believe it, their children are not perfectly programmable computers, nor are they completely corruptible vessels of the unholy spirit. They are capable of making their own decisions about morality, as we all have. The broader the scope of ideas we allow kids to grapple with, the less the danger of them choosing a narrow mind, the kind of mind that breeds prejudice and hatred. To many parents, a broad mind in their kids may be a scary thing. To me, however, there’s nothing more comforting than to meet someone with an open mind.