I always like to offer secondary opinions during Banned Books Week, so when Kim answered my twitter call for guest posts I immediately agreed!
Please welcome Kim, founder and publisher at Safkhet Publishing, to Escape Through the Pages.
Banned Books Week – what an intriguing thought. Didn’t know it even existed until recently and was then thinking: do we really need that? Are there so many books that are banned or challenged and shouldn’t be?
I read through the lists both on the BBW US website and the one for the UK and am shocked to report I read quite a few of them. Some in school, some at home, some just so. Whoops! How did that happen? Does it have something to do with my growing up in Germany? Right, quick check on the net reveals there is no such Banned Books Week in Germany; there is such a thing as “Meinungsfreiheit” which translates to freedom of opinion.
Am I leaning too far out the window when I say there should be freedom of opinion in any democracy? But then again, neither the US nor the UK are a democracy, are they? Quick check in the history-education department of my brain… no! They aren’t. What does that mean though? That “they” do not need freedom of opinion? (Maybe I should not even be thinking this!)
Well, in any case, it is a sad fact that books get banned, get burned, got banned (in Germany too, yes, I know), got burnt. Which brings me to another image: high school students burning their books right after high school. They ban the very books they learnt from right after graduating. Is that acceptable?
I am a book publisher and books have become some sort of commodity to me and yet, there are some that I would not give away or want to live without:
The first one is my great grandmother’s Bible. It is the oldest book I own and a beautifully leather-bound story book that is almost falling apart.
The second one is my copy of “Nationalsozialismus”. No, I am not a Nazi. I inherited this book from someone who also was not a Nazi and yet, I treasure it for its historic value. It, too, is beautifully leather-bound, well type-set and amazingly well written for what it is: a marketing manual, in some way. And a witness of an era, whatever one may think of that era.
Several others are: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Fahrenheit 451; Tom Sawyer; The Awakening; We; The Colour Purple; Dr Zhivago; Death of a Salesman;… I could keep going for a long time and I had no idea that all of these are banned or challenged! Why?! I actually read most of those in school – we were never told they are banned or challenged in the US or UK!? We discussed the literary value of them! The content did raise interesting issues; it made us more aware.
So, I turned to my husband who is from the US… south of the Bible Belt even. He told me he was not allowed to read the Satanic Bible or The Scarlet Letter. The Scarlet Letter allegedly being about adultery and prostitution; that is at least what the moral majority said. Unclean thoughts and all that. He read it anyway at the age of 16 and did not understand the issue; he got the book from the university library (the restricted section: why am I reminded of Harry Potter suddenly?). Husband thought that everybody should be allowed to read whatever they want; teaching should provide for the understanding and necessary background knowledge so that someone reading about Satan does not turn into Satan himself. People who grow up in such a restricted society are far more likely to grow into little monsters anyway. Or big monsters even?
Oh my, maybe I really should not have written this article, but it so entirely says what I truly feel: if someone wants to write something (author) and at least one other person wants to actually read and distribute it (publisher), after having taken into account every aspect of libel, slander or defamation, why should that get banned after being published? In my opinion, it should not. Not if it’s true (in the case of biographies)! Or fictitious (in the case of fiction, clearly marked as such)!
Am I a bad person because I read all those books that are banned or challenged in other countries, which, by the way, I thought of as civilized, educated, free and open societies?
And when is that all going to hit the Internet and how? Are “they” going to set up committees who comb the Internet for questionable content? Or is that already happening as well and I just did not get the memo in time? Again, I know that it IS happening in some countries; but the US or UK? Really? A scary thought just crossed my mind: what when we all have those brain implants reporting every thought we have directly to that very agency, and we all get looked up for thinking the wrong stuff at the wrong moment? What then? Well, at least the world would be a cleaner place because those filthy, dirty books would no longer hit the schools and trouble the poor children.
Thank you, Kim! Kim works at Safkhet Publishing, an independent publishing house based in Cambridge, England.
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