With apologies to Sir-Mix-A-Lot ‘I like Banned Books and I cannot lie.’ This week is Banned Books week. And as I do every year, I’m here to give you my annual take on censorship, banning books, and to also ask you why, why, why none of you people will ban one of my books. What’s up with that? I know that sounds like a contradiction. Let me explain.
There is no time. Let me sum up.
I believe in freedom of speech. I would gladly die for that freedom. Freedom of speech is a hard concept for people to comprehend. Even those who live in this country and enjoy its benefits. It means exactly that: speak freely. Unless what you are saying directly endangers someone’s life (the “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” example we all learned in civics class) you have the freedom to speak out on any issue.
But for freedom of speech to work it has to be truly free. Where we run into problems in this country is that some don’t understand this freedom applies to everyone. Every. One. And that means bigots, racists, homophobes, and fans of One Direction. They get to spew whatever crap comes out of their mouth without fear of being hauled off to prison or being muzzled or stifled.
The great flip side is that freedom is a wonderful concept that works both ways. Because I have the freedom to call those people morons. And even better, I have the right, one that I exercise with more and more frequency, to ignore them. But I don’t advocate censoring them. In fact, I don’t want any person, government or agency censoring anyone.
Because I don’t want anyone censoring me.
That’s how it works. For there to be true freedom it must mean freedom for all. Even the stupid and idiotic. The flat earthers. The religious zealots. Even the people who seek to ban and remove books from libraries and schools. Whether you or I agree with them or not. Everyone has the right to be heard, and to express their concerns. It must be this way.
Unfortunately, we live in a media driven world of shouting. If you watch the ‘news’ you’ll see everyone yelling at every one else. Right vs. Left. Red vs. Blue. Each side thinking the only solution is to silence the other. But it doesn’t work this way. Our freedom of speech has given us big giant blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher. But you have the freedom to do what I do. Ignore them both. I have the right to wish that all the shouters would just go somewhere else and shut their cake holes.
It doesn’t mean I don’t participate in our democracy. It doesn’t mean I don’t have convictions or values. It doesn’t mean I don’t stand up and speak out and let my voice be heard on important issues. But I wish we lived in a more polite society. I choose not to shout my beliefs from the mountaintop.
In college, I took a Political Science course on the U.S. Constitution and learned about ‘expressed and implied’ rights. Expressed rights are those written down as law. Implied rights are those our courts say the law grants us, even if they are not written down. In my opinion, the most important right in the Constitution is one that is implied. It is the right to be left alone. To not be bothered. To proceed through life without being hassled by anyone. And that includes the right to read whatever books you would like.
So my advice is this. Stand up against censorship. Disagree vigorously with those who would ban and censor books, but do it respectfully and politely. If you are a parent, you should have control over what books your children have access too. You should have control over everything your child has access too. That’s a parent’s job. No argument from me.
But you should not have control over the books other parents choose to allow their children to read and enjoy. If you’re uncomfortable with a book, worried about the age appropriateness or whatever, then tell your child you don’t think they’re ready for it. You’ll let them read it when they’re older. But please don’t try to prohibit others from reading it. Maybe their child is at a different level emotionally or intellectually than yours.
The irony in all of this is that those who chose to ban books often achieve the opposite result. Much like ‘shouting’ about other issues, we only bring attention to the ignorant and profane. When someone spouts racial epithets or bigoted statements, try letting them drown in the silence of their own ignorance. Giving them attention only strengthens their voice. Who will these people speak to if no one is listening? You do not solve disagreements by shouting louder.
Banned Books provide us with a perfect example of this phenomenon. When a booked is banned or challenged, it becomes an irresistible forbidden fruit. It’s sales usually rise. People want to see what all the fuss is about. As Mark Twain once said in a ‘thank you’ letter to a library that had removed one of his books from its shelves (and I’m paraphrasing) “One banned book insures the sale of one hundred of it’s mates.”
Which brings me to my books. Please ignore everything I just said and ban them. My books are dangerous. Subversive. Some of them have swear words. And those are the children’s books. (Okay, technically, ‘arse’ is not a swear word but it’s right there in The Youngest Templar). Heck, in Killer Species, one of the characters almost uses the word ‘crap’ in a sentence. He only gets to the ‘cr…’ part, but still. If I were you, I would go to the local bookstore and buy every single copy of one of my books and burn them. Seriously. All of them.
Just let me know where. I’ll bring hotdogs.