Talking about Banned Books Week
Joseph Coulson, President, Great Books Foundation.
Here are four books that according to the American Library Association have been banned or challenged in the United States over the last five years: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I chose these four novels because I taught each of them in the last five years while they were also being censored, banned, or even burned in a country where First Amendment rights are lionized as an essential component of our democracy. The irony here is heavy—and heavier still when I think of my students and the far-reaching discussions, debates, insights, empathy, and understanding that these books engendered. Since its inception, the Great Books Foundation has been a stalwart ally of the embattled book and its author. I think of Ray Bradbury, of reading Fahrenheit 451 as a teenager, and how the lyricism of his prose stands in sharp opposition to the world of censorship and book burning that he so brutally describes.
Banned Books Week should remind us of the freedom we enjoy and of the ongoing threats to both freedom and knowledge. And we should always remember Ray Bradbury’s admonition: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
This post was originally published for Banned Books Week 2014. Sadly, the same books continue to be challenged and Coulson’s words have as much meaning today as they did two years ago.