As Banned Book Week draws to a close, we in the publishing industry should reflect on exactly why we celebrate this occasion.
It’s important that individuals maintain the right to choose which books they read. If free and open access to information is restricted then all sides of an issue cannot be fairly represented, leading to misinformation. Also, when books are banned and a stigma is created around discussing unpopular topics, gifted, visionary authors (who, after all, must make a living) may begin to censor themselves, repressing their ideas and failing to elevate intellectual and creative standards of literature. Important literature should open readers’ minds and inform their opinions, but when access to ideas is restricted their decision making power is limited.
It’s quaint – and wholly inaccurate – to think of book banning of something from our history that has been eliminated due to progressive thinking or unfettered flow of information provided by the Internet. Some of the industry’s most compelling books in recent years – from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Natasha Friend’s Lush have been under threat of censorship because of their subject matter.
The dangers of depriving people of their choices is exemplified in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which has been banned and challenged as required reading in schools since its publication in 1931. In Huxley’s alternate world, the government uses technology to control every aspect of society including education, work, health and even reproduction, and drugs citizens to keep them contented in their resigned state. True happiness is of course sacrificed at the expense of a harmonious society where people only do what they are told and do not think for themselves.
That Brave New World is constantly under the threat of being banned is ironic, but not surprising. Many of the best books that have challenged authority’s ability to deprive its citizens of information have themselves been threatened.
Whether a book is defending or combating societal ills, the knowledge it reveals can help us to learn from our past. However, it’s up to the individual to assess the information available and decide where to stand on an issue.
We hope that modern and future authors will continue to courageously speak their truth, paving the way for new ideas to be born, but also that book lovers will support their right to have free and open access to information. The best books encourage readers to ask questions and think for themselves—which is the first step toward real freedom.
Kerry Breen is Associate Editor of the Quality Paperback Book Club (QPB). QPB supports fiction authors who challenge literary boundaries with the annual New Voices award and recognizes groundbreaking non-fiction authors with the annual New Visions award.