I’ve been thinking a lot about censorship lately, and the power of words. Since I wrote about my summer reading list, I’ve read a lot of interesting things.
I’ve read news articles, about the increasing number of books being banned (over a thousand since mid-2021 in the USA, according to PEN America, an NPO that works to protect freedom of expression); about the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie; and about the changes to an international statement on gender equality by our government to exclude the protection of the rights to sexual and reproductive health and bodily autonomy of woman and girls.
I’ve read the results of a consultation I took part in, which were that the proposal under consultation be shelved, but also that in future members of the community (in this case, specifically all parents) not in fact be consulted, to ensure a different outcome. I’ve read the huge numbers of comments, questions, emails, letters and protest signs generated by those parents, and I’ve read the response that suggests we didn’t fully understand the grossly expensive PR exercise designed to sell the proposal to us, or we wouldn’t have had to resort to a Freedom of Information request to find out what was actually going on, nor would we have had to disagree.
I’ve read some of the books on my reading list, and some others: I’ve read poetry, fiction, non-fiction and picture books. I’ve read books on reading lists, I’ve read classics, and I’ve read free Kindle books by the shed load. I’ve read what I liked, and talked about it. It’s a precious thing to be able to do.
There is a story about a Chinese emperor called Qin Shi Huang, who in 213 BC burned all the books in his kingdom, and buried all the scholars alive, in an attempt to control how he would be remembered by history. Ironically, because there was no one left to record his reign, there is very little known about it, except that. Suppressing the spread and discussion of ideas through the banning and burning of books is not a new thing, and it’s saddening that it persists in what we like to think of as our civilised society.
Books can be burned, statements can be written, results can be published. Words can be made to mean anything. But expression is not only a right (these can be taken away, as we know) - it is a fundamental part of being a person, and there is not a bonfire in the world that can stop people from saying, doing and thinking what they think, and questioning what they are told.
The ability to push back, in little ways and in bigger ones, is something we can’t waste. You can start by reading one of the ten most challenged books in 2021/ 2022 Home - Banned Books Week - September 18 – 24, 2022 - LibGuides at Delaware Division of Libraries, which include: Gender Queer – a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe; Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison; and The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Or one of these, which have all at one time been banned: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; Howl, by Allan Ginsburg; Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck; and of course, any of the Harry Potter novels by J.K Rowling and, interestingly, Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.
If you have children, get involved in Banned Book week, 18 – 24 September. Visit Banned Books Week | September 18 – 24, 2022 and The School Reading List website has a great suggested reading list. Banned Books Week - our reading suggestions (schoolreadinglist.co.uk).
What are you reading that makes you feel empowered? Or political? Or radical?