Why do we have a Banned Books Week? Why is it important to highlight books that have been deemed at some time or another (or are still considered) inappropriate for bookstore or library shelves?
Because it's important to protect not only freedom of expression, but freedom of thought.
Books are often banned in knee-jerk reactions by parents or school board members who didn't actually read (or, at least, didn't understand) the material. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned for its derogatory references to African Americans, despite the fact that Twain deliberately used such language to illustrate how demeaning and horrifying slavery (and, more generally, whites views of blacks) was. To Kill A Mockingbird was often banned for pretty much the same reason.
The Harry Potter series is frequently scrutinized for its "magical" content, never mind that it's a story about good triumphing over evil, love winning over fear and hate.
And then there's the especially ironic bans. Fahrenheit 451 is about a society that outlaws (and actually destroys) all books, yet it is frequently censored. 1984 was considered sympathetic to Communism. Have you read it? It's not. In fact, Eric Blair (George Orwell) was vehemently anti-Communist, and more than just 1984 suggest that. Animal Farm, any one?
The list goes on: The Diary of Anne Frank, Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, Where's Waldo? (It's true! Where's. Waldo.)
Pete Hautman offered some great thoughts on the topic of banned books (and the sort-of covert--or preemptive--banning that's still taking place) on his BLOG today. Pete is the author of the National Book Award winner Godless--which, itself,
has been the target of concerned parent and educational groups that
obviously haven't read the book, as it's not nearly as provocative as
its title implies. It's a story about a boy's complicated relationship with his parents, his friend, and religion. And it's a story about a boy's search for meaning.
But I guess my point isn't only that books that aren't offensive get banned just because people assume they are. My point is that regardless of whether or not books are offensive, they shouldn't be censored. If a parent doesn't want his or her child to read a particular book--that's a discussion for that family. But to deny access of that book to everyone else--just because it makes you uncomfortable--is unacceptable. Even un-American. Because suppression of literature is suppression of thought. Living in a free society means that people are free to say and write things that are sometimes objectionable, and it's not for the government (or anyone else) to decide what is and isn't appropriate for the masses. There are plenty of things out there that I would never read or watch or listen to because I think they're in poor taste, but I'm not going to push for censorship of those things--just as I expect others to do (or not do) the same for me.
Living in a free society, to me, means that we have the freedom to think and live how we want (so long as it doesn't infringe upon the freedoms of others). It is NOT the freedom to force our own "brand" of freedom on everyone else.