The last week of September is recognized by the American Library Association as Banned Books Week. I am in the process of thinking of some ways to recognize the need to be constantly aware of ongoing attempts at censorship in all forms. I know that as a bookseller I have argued with myself over what books to carry and when to say "I will not have that in my store".
For example, I am a political and news junkie and enjoy reading political commentary - when it is written with a clear, logical and reasoned approach. Much of what passes for commentary today is simply over-heated, hateful, divisive, partisan rhetoric which, in my opinion, adds little to the debate and certainly does not help us in reaching the goal of a well-informed electorate. Yet, when I considered not carrying some of the more egregious authors of these best-selling titles, I realized that I would be practicing my own style of censorship.
From the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression website supporting the recognition of Banned Books Week from September 26 - October 3, 2009:
Book censorship of all kinds – even book-burning – continues today. Challenges may come from parents, teachers, clergy members, elected officials, or organized groups, and arise due to objections to language, violence, sexual or racial themes, or religious viewpoint, to name just a few. In 2008, the ALA counted 513 challenges. Many other cases go unreported.
This year, for example, in Shelby, Michigan Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison was suspended from the curriculum after the superintendent ordered a teacher to remove the book from advanced English classes.
In Vineland, NJ, the principal of Landis Intermediate School literally tore pages out of the school's copy of the nationally acclaimed poetry anthology, Paint Me Like I Am, written by teens for teens after one parent raised concerns over the "age-appropriateness" of Jason Tirado's poem, "Diary of an Abusive Step-father." In West Bend, WI several books were challenged at the Community Memorial Public Library and the Library Board was accused of "promoting the overt indoctrination of the gay-agenda." In addition, the Christian Civil Liberties Union's Milwaukee branch filed a legal claim arguing its elderly plaintiffs suffered mental and emotional damage due to the book's presence in the public library's Young Adult section.
To be honest, I wrestle with these decisions daily. Am I being a literary snob when I don't order the latest Harlequin romance series book? Do I develop a separate section for "Christian literature"? How much do I preview the books in my Young Adult sections for content that some parents may find objectionable? How do I decide what "may be objectionable"?
With each question, I am becoming more and more convinced that I need to provide the materials, and generally let the market decide, although, I will always strive to find and stock quality literature of all genres, religious beliefs, and political positions even though it may be outsold by more popular titles.
If you have any suggestions, ideas, or are interesting in helping Paragraphs and South Padre Island recognize Banned Books Week, I would love to hear from you.