Monday, February 23, 2009

Freedom to Read

The week of February 22 to February 28 is the 25th annual Freedom to Read Week in Canada. Taking part in some way, no matter how small, is the perfect way to take a stand against censorship in this country. We each have the freedom of choice to read what we want…and we have no right to tell anyone else what not to read.

Some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I was born with a golden book in my hands. Literature has been a part of my life long before I could ever read the words on the page. But I understood stories…my brother and I would climb into our parent’s bed and plead with our father to tell us a story. Which he did…spoken not in English but in German…fairy tales that stick with me to this day. My love of words was endless and has never been satisfied.

I don’t remember how old I was when I got my first public library card. But I do remember everything about that library. The location, the front door, the check-out desk at the back, the aisles…and exactly where the “Blue Fairy Book” by Andrew Lang sat on the shelf in the corner.

After all that, present to me the idea that books are actually banned…and I’m outraged. Oh I can understand why certain books are challenged and banned. I can understand why some parent may take offense to reading Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen ”not because Mickey is baked into a cake but because he’s illustrated in three of those amazing pictures without any clothes on. Yes, naked toddlers are a threat to society. I get that. So don’t read this book to your child. Just don’t tell me I can’t. I read my own daughter this book and I’ve noticed she has no lingering effect after seeing Mickey naked. Yet Sendak’s book continually shows up on the list of challenged books.

And don’t think that censorship and book banning is becoming any less of an occurrence. The Toronto District School Board is currently reviewing Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” after a parent complained that their child in grade 12 was reading the book in class. One single complaint that the book “has foul language, anti-Christian overtones, violence, and sexual degradation”. Atwood’s book often makes the challenged list yet is one of the most celebrated books by one of Canada’s most respected novelists and poets. It will be interesting to see what the Toronto District School Board does with this high profile complaint.

And one last comment, though it pains me to go there since I spend a fortune in this store and now need to re-evaluate my shopping plans in order to take a stand…Indigo Books. In July of 2006 you couldn’t find a copy of the June/July issue of the U.S. published magazine “Free Inquiry” at Indigo. Indigo’s senior vice president for procurement, Joel Silver, said that the missing edition of “Free Inquiry” was an oversight and Indigo would indeed sell the issue. However Tom Flynn, the editor of “Free Inquiry” had a little more to add. Earlier that week he had been told that Indigo wouldn’t be stocking the June/July issue…no reason offered. And that in the future, Indigo would examine future issues to see if it was suitable for sale in Canada.

The real reason for the non-appearance of the June/July issue? Blatant censorship. An essay within its covers by a Princeton professor Peter Singer titled, “The Freedom to Ridicule Religion-and Deny the Holocaust”. Which I encourage you to link to here and read for yourself. Personally….I liked what Singer had to say in his essay: “Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive”.

And now go check out the Challenged Books List and pick up something controversial to read.

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