It’s been so busy that I didn’t realize it was Banned Books Week until yesterday, when there was but one day left (today). I usually make a point of reading a banned book during this week, but I suppose I read so many of them normally that the observance might lose its edge. But that’s just an excuse—in this world of uber-corrupt governments, preventing censorship is a sacrament. We’ve seen just this week how dictators try to silence those who expose them. Banned books, whether we like what they say or not, should be available for reading. This is an amazingly bipartisan holiday. Some places have banned the Bible, to which true believers in the principles of Banned Books Week would respond “Even books we might disagree with should be made available.” Censorship seeks to cut off discussion.
Although I won’t finish in time, after work yesterday I quickly grabbed my unread copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to begin to make up for my oversight. Leaves of Grass has been called America’s homegrown Bible and it has an almost religious following, as it has for decades now. Poetry has a way of moving people that frightens autocrats. It taps into something that skirts around our conscious mind at times, opening up possibilities that censors would rather keep closed. Over the past couple of years books of poetry have again begun to appear on the New York Times Bestseller list. People read to be moved.
One element banned books tend to have in common is that they’re honest, even when they’re fiction. Honesty is a source of great anxiety for many. We don’t like to let our true selves be seen because, truth be told, we feel vulnerable. Banned books take us into uncomfortable places. And sublime places. Not all books are great literature, of course. Even I have been known to part with a book after reading it because it simply didn’t speak to me in the way I like to be spoken to. Still, I’m loath to give such a book a negative review. It didn’t speak to me, but it spoke to the author and the publisher, obviously. It is a voice that deserves to be heard. That’s what Banned Books Week is all about—defending the right of human expression. I may not finish my banned book by the end of today since weekends tend to be busier than many work days. Still, I’m looking forward to my encounter with America’s other Bible.