If there is anything I admire, it’s irony…

My last post was about the magic and power of books. Tonight, gentle readers, I come to you on the eve of Banned Books Week. Yes… Banned Books Week…

It never ceases to amaze me. It seems that, at least ten times a year, I hear some story about a book being “challenged” by some group. They want the book taken from the shelves of their libraries, their school media centers, or even from the shelves of local book stores. I realize, of course, that this is no new idea. I am sure that there were people that wanted Gutenberg’s Bible taken away and burned as heresy because it was not written by monks with quill pens but actually (gasp!) printed by a machine. Every society has felt the need to censor the printed word, usually because the work in question would somehow be “hazardous to the fiber of society” if it were available to the general public.

What tickles me, though, is this – nobody ever seems to think about the one point that I find absolutely hysterical. The point is this – if you absolutely, positively want to guarantee that everyone will want to read a book, try banning it and see what happens. It is a textbook example of reverse psychology. Go to Best Buy and buy a top-of-the-line Blu-Ray player and a beautiful new 54″ plasma-screen television. Now, set it up all beautifully in your home theater area. Fine-tune it to absolute perfection. Then turn to your children and make a terrific scene about how this electronic equipment is not to be touched, fooled with, or breathed on in any way, shape, or form. Then tell me how long it is before you are futilely trying to get a grilled-cheese sandwich out of that same Blu-Ray player. I can wait…

All that psychological theory aside, though, the fascination for me comes not in the fact that people still think they need to try to have books banned, but in the books they choose to attack.

My immediate thought goes to the long-running feud some people have with the Harry Potter books. Call me silly, but the Potter books don’t bother me. I enjoyed reading them. Was I “seduced by the lure of wizardry and witchcraft” after reading them? Nope. But, it is true, I was an adult when I read them. That being said, though, I was fully well aware of the fact that book stores around the world were being mobbed by readers under the age of 15, clamoring to get the books as each new one hit the shelves. Bookstores were having midnight parties and receptions, welcoming children in, having refreshments and readings, in preparation to sell each and every child a new book. Read back over those last words, my friends. Children. Clamoring. To buy a BOOK. Not a new video game or a CD or a DVD. A BOOK. And, especially with the last three or four of Rowling’s works, HUGE BOOKS!!! We are not talking 100-page Encyclopedia Brown books. We are talking volumes the size of Gone With The Wind and War and Peace. Am I the only one that was warmed to my very soul by the thought of kids rediscovering the love of the written word? Encouraged at the thought that those kids might actually take the written word to heart and perhaps think about writing stories themselves one day?

Yet, as always, some people decided that the books had to be evil, if they were attracting children like that. The books were anti-Christian, some said. Others claimed they were trying to attract children to wizardry, Wicca, and, I would suppose, dragon-riding and using banks run by goblins . . .

I also find it mildly laughable that one of the books on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009” is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. A book about a ¬†futuristic society that has declared the written word to be illegal is one of the most banned books in the country. Anyone out there know why Bradbury chose that unusual title? It’s the temperature that paper will ignite and burn. . . As I said before, the irony is too perfect to be fictional . . .

Feel free to look at the list I mention –

http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009/index.cfm

Normally, when one thinks of “banned books” or “book burning,” the mind immediately goes to Nazi Germany, when bonfires of books were held in the middle of Berlin. Books by Hemingway, Jack London, and John Steinbeck were among the titles the Nazi party deemed “unsuitable” and/or evil. The censorship was deemed necessary to “maintain the control of the minds and spirits of the citizens of the Third Reich,” so wrote Joseph Goebbels, on the evening before he delivered a speech to the masses in the Opernplatz in Berlin. He said in that speech that “. . . the future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. . .”

I know each and every one of you out there have busy schedules. I know you have families and meetings and fall ball games and a hundred other things that keep you on the run. I have only one thing to ask of you.

Hit that above link again, and pick one book off the list. Take an hour and just read a little of it. You might find yourself enthralled by the first few chapters of A Farewell to Arms, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Of Mice and Men. You might find a new affection for wonderful books like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

But look at that list carefully, and count how many books you might already have read, without realizing just how subversive you were . . .

Kinda fun being a rebel, huh?

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