Two things: 1. It’s Banned Books Week and I’m sponsoring a giveaway. 2. It’s the fourth anniversary of this blog. It might mean something that I started this blog during banned books week, but probably not. (Don’t go back and read the first post. It’s terrible.) Celebrations will ensue. Sorry-but-not-actually-sorry for the lecture on intellectual freedoms below. Read (or scroll) to the end for info on the super fun contest.
Today (well, yesterday really) marks the start of banned books week, a week sponsored by the American Library Association to celebrate intellectual freedom. Now, I’m hearing growing suspicion that intellectual freedom in the United States is somewhat illusory, given that the information in our country is largely controlled by 6 major corporations (Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS. Read more here.), but even given that, American can pretty much think and say what they want. There are some points of legal debate: is hate speech protected? Does a “like” on facebook count as a speech act? At what point is it not ok to disagree with government (that is, at what point does free speech become treason?)? But I’d like to point out that we can ask these questions, and we can point out who owns 90% of our information, and we can make people aware of these problems largely because of the culture of intellectual freedom fostered in our country. I’m speaking specifically of the United States, but I think the same dynamic is present in other nations as well.
Along with these freedoms, though, comes a responsibility. We can use our free speech to shock, degrade, and undermine (think: Miley’s performance at the VMA’s), or we can use it to genuinely try to understand and improve the world around us (think: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jon Stewart, etc., who hold controversial opinions, but who are at least asking good questions). The question of how we use our intellectual freedoms also assumes that, in fact, we are going to use them. Mark Twain says, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” What’s the point in having freedom to read, to think, and to figure things out for ourselves if we are too lazy to do it? Ray Bradbury elucidates, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Let me be clear: I’m not in favor of smut (like Fifty Shades of Gray, a notable book banned or contested this year). But I am in favor of people being able to read or write whatever they want– including smut. If people didn’t read it, people would stop writing it.
If you’re reading this blog, you are already a reader (of this blog at least, right?). I understand I’m preaching to the choir here, but that doesn’t make my point less important. What we read influences how we think, which determines how we act. If we remove reading from this process, we are thinking and acting in ignorance. So this week, celebrate your freedom to read a book and think whatever you want about it. (Readers looking for contest details should start reading from this point.)
On this blog, we’ll be celebrating both Banned Books Week AND four years of Something Worth Reading by hosting a giveaway. Here’s how we’re going to do it. Pop over to the ALA’s website and check out the list of frequently banned books. Choose a book from their banned and challenged classics list, one that you have either read or want to read, and leave a comment about why it’s worth reading. At the end of the week, I’ll choose from comment-ers (multiple submissions ok) and give a (banned) book to the winner.