Banned Books Week is an Offensive Luxury

There’s a brilliant song by a little known singer songwriter named Joe Pug, called “I Do My Father’s Drugs”. It’s a song about the inevitability of youthful rebellion, and what happens to culture when freedom is so pervasive that the young have nothing to rage against. One of the striking stanzas reads: “When every revolution / Is sponsored by the state / There’s no bravery in bayonets / In tearing down the gates / If you see me with a rifle / Don’t ask me what it’s for / I fight my father’s war.”  

I am reminded of this song as I read about books stores and libraries across the country celebrating Banned Book’s Week: a celebration of “the freedom to read”. The purpose of the event is ostensibly to prop up commonly banned books to underscore the value of freedom of speech. Throughout the week, booksellers and readers have been posting their favorite banned books on various social media platforms. 

I’m not sure I even need to point out the irony. American booksellers touting their favorite controversial reading material on free and open media platforms as if it were some kind of rebellious act. One glance at the list of banned books and you’ll realize that none of them are at all difficult to track down and could probably be found at every bookstore in the country. Those books that were at a time considered anti-American, anti-War, or Anti-God, were only ever banned by private institutions, and never at any Federal level. 

In Washington DC, the public library engaged readers in a scavenger hunt, by hiding banned books wrapped in conspicuous brown paper in discreet locations. Players were encouraged to post their findings to social media. 

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Reading ceases to be a rebellious act when the nation’s capital has sanctioned a game wherein readers can pretend to defy authority by tracking down books that are totally ubiquitous and widely revered by larger society. 

Most of the books are completely innocuous and non-threatening to any legitimate state institution. Books like Fun Home, The Fault in Our Stars, and Fifty Shades of Grey, are hardly polemical. 

Such antics are especially offensive considering the countries whose publishing industries are under genuine threat from governments who impose actual restrictions on what can be discussed and read. Publishers and Authors in Turkey, China, Ukraine and many other countries find themselves in serious danger when broaching certain taboos, risking incarceration and execution. 

Literature has tremendous potential for rebellion and transgression. It can flip an entire culture’s notions of what should be freely discussed on its head. By forcing themselves into deeper and deeper waters, writers have the power to shirk restrictions imposed by dogma and government. So it is paramount that we in the free western world, take note of where this is actually taking place, instead of pretending that it is still taking place here. 


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