Many New Years resolutions concern ways of improving the self- smoke less, exercise more; spend less, conserve more. These are worthy goals, but always subjective in nature and often fall to the wayside as circumstances and attitudes change while the year takes shape.
As long-time readers of this column are aware, I began a personal quest 52 weeks ago to not only improve myself, but improve the awareness and foster dialogue among others about the very real threat to free thought and our intellectual liberty.
Every country in the world today, and throughout human history, has banned books for a variety of reasons- often for political gain, with the objecting few standing upon a pulpit of self righteousness and indignation to decide what the many are allowed to read in vain attempts to serve their own needs.
The United States of America is one of only a few countries in the world where the freedom of expression and of ideas is so core to its principles that citizens are guaranteed that right by national charter; yet the sad, disturbing truth is that the practice of censorship and book burning is so prevalent in U.S. history- both past and present- that the American Library Association created Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to the issue.
The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom began formally cataloging censorship attempts since 1990. Here are just a few of the very sobering statistics to date:
There are currently more than 11,000 challenges on record.
Between 1990 and 2006, the OIF reported that 6,346 books were considered for confiscation. 4,671 occurred between 2001 and 2009- 1,413 for being \”sexually explicit,\” 1,125 for containing \”offensive language,\” 897 titles were considered \”unsuited to age group,\” 514 for being “violent,” 344 for \”homosexual themes,\” 109 for being \”anti-family,\” and 269 for promoting religious views. 1,502 of challenges occurred in American classrooms.
A scary, but common reason for a book to be banned is because somewhere in its text something runs counter to what is thought to be majority opinion. The ironic twist on the “religious” argument is that while some books are under fire for being contrary to religious doctrine, others are being banned for promoting one religion- or none at all.
Over the course of the year I’ve been very proud and humbled to watch Banned Book Awareness and Reading for Knowledge grow. This column is now read and shared around the world; the new voices that join the chorus of the discussions is my most valued outcome of this project.
Some titles came as no surprise, while others- like Winnie-the-Pooh being politically subversive- were so shocking that it still stands as one of my most viewed articles.
From 1984 to Animal Farm, from Mark Twain to Dr.Seuss, and from the Bible to the dictionary itself, we’ve seen that no subject, no genre is off limits to the narrow-minded narcissism and misplaced supremacy of the hateful book burners.
Thank you all for following along each week and adding your unique voice to the discourse. Sometimes the discussions actually inspired which books I wrote about. That is exactly what I had hoped would happen, as this is has always been a community-minded project. These are YOUR rights just as much as they are mine. We are in this together and must stand united against the winds of intolerance and ignorance.
If the last two decades of statistics show us anything, it’s that this problem isn’t going to go away soon. In fact, as internet technology continues to develop and access to it spreads around the world, more voices and differing opinions will find their place at every point along the spectrum of social and political debate.
We should foster, not fear, diversity of opinion and viewpoint for very often solutions come in finding the common ground upon which we all stand. Fresh ideas and perspectives breathe new life into the human condition.
2011 was a year of awakening and awareness; 2012 will be a year of action. This project will continue beyond its original one-year goal to report on any attempt by governments or individuals to abuse and erase your right to information. I trust you have enjoyed this series, and I hope that you stay with me along this intellectual journey through the pages of world literature. The best is yet to come. Blessings and sincere thanks to one and all.
For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit www.deepforestproductions.com
Sources: American Library Association,
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions