In this country, it’s rare that a book gets banned by the vote of a school board or library trustees. Censorship can be more subtle: a nagging parent raising the specter of homosexual indoctrination pressures a librarian to put the copy of the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” into a drawer where it’s out of sight. Or a school administrator yanks a teacher’s copy of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” or Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from the class reading list because he’s concerned about the controversy they might stir.

Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association running through Oct. 3, shines a light on books that have caught heat, for whatever reason, somewhere in the country. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was once banned because some people believed the idea of talking animals was blasphemous. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood, has been branded as vulgar and sexually explicit since it was published in 1985. And books in the Harry Potter series have faced attempts to ban them because some people contend the wizardry and magic woven through the stories could warp the minds of impressionable children.  

The week always includes a list of the 10 “most challenged” books in the U.S., many of which this year are targeted because they have gay or transgender characters or story lines about gender identity questions. 

People are free to choose what they do or don’t read, but there’s tremendous value in the public exchange of ideas, wherein people accept or reject what authors, artists and thinkers have to offer, and through that process find truth. This 19th century philosophy, advocated by justices and scholars across the political spectrum, is what comes to mind for most of us when we think about the First Amendment. And maybe it’s more important now than ever, at a time when people seem more hostile to hearing what someone with different views has to say. 

In his dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451” author Ray Bradbury depicts a society in which books are outlawed and burned by “firemen” dispatched to destroy them – and often the homes where they’re found and the people who harbor them. 

Bradbury’s book, written in 1953, has been the target of an attempt to ban it for “vulgar” language. It might be a good one to pick up and read this week for the ideas inside about our world outside.

For more on Banned Books Week:  http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks 

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