Banning books is a hot topic in the literary world, and I spend my life surrounded by people committed to stop it from happening. Readers need to see themselves in fiction, and there is plenty of room on the bookshelf for a variety of world views. I read banned books and I encourage my students to read them as well.
So I am surprised that lately, I’ve seen those who speak openly against banning books cheering for others who are doing just that. We must remember that in championing books, in celebrating our freedom to read, we are going to be faced with protecting those very ideas that we disagree with. That is the nature of free speech. There are many voices, and not all of them are speaking our language. But if we truly believe that censorship is wrong, we fight it.
This doesn’t mean we don’t criticize those books and ideals. That is the best part about freedom of expression – it allows us to engage in meaningful conversations about those things that matter. We should be critical of ideas we don’t agree with. But only in allowing them to be expressed can we fight that issue head on.
I recently saw on Twitter several people agreeing with a child who demanded a sexist children’s book be removed from the bookstore. While I am also sick of seeing both boys and girls being told what they can and cannot enjoy, by celebrating this behavior, we are teaching that banning books is the answer and will solve the problem. Neither are true.
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Beatty tells Montag that people stopped reading of their own accord long before books became illegal, mostly because authors were so afraid of offending somebody (and no matter what you write, it will offend somebody), that the books didn’t actually say anything.
I want books to speak – to me, to my students, to people who are similar to me as well as to those who differ. And in order to make sure that those books stay on the shelves, that my students are able to find these books, then that means I must fight for the freedom of all books.
We all know taking those issues out of bookstores and libraries doesn’t mean those issues disappear from reality. When those books are no longer present, it means they are also no longer part of a necessary critical conversation. We’re not just silencing opposing voices – we’re stopping conversations. And that kind of silence isn’t just deafening. It’s dangerous.