Banning Books

Gary Slapper, via the Times Online website.Writing today in his Weird Cases column in TimesOnline (update: the outcome of a similar case is here), Gary Slapper (left) hits the nail on the head:

Historically, there has been a serious problem for those who try to use the law to ban books: their action is commonly counter-productive. Nothing so effectively enlarges a book’s readership as a censor trying to stop people from reading it.

It reminds me that the American Library Association (ALA) promotes Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read at the end of September each year:

BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.

Amnesty poster, via their site.Amnesty‘s page on the week (for which the image on the right is one of their posters) is here; and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) have developed a website for bookstores to get involved. Even Google has joined that initiative, and has a page devoted to the best banned novels of the twentieth century. The Pathfinder of Banned Books is a superb resource, and other list of banned books are available here, here, here and here, and the National Coalition Against Censorship maintains a page on ongoing attempts to ban books. Freedom to Read Week is an equivalent annual event in Canada, which will take place next February, and they too maintain a list of banned books. The excellent Beacon for Freedom of Expression maintains a bibliographical database on freedom of expression and censorship world wide which, like Google’s page above, also contains a gallery of banned books.

I find all of these lists depressing reading, almost as depressing I find the concept of censorship itself. It might, as Slapper points out, be frequently counter-productive; bit it is also profoundly anti-democratic. Important initiatives like Banned Books Week help to keep freedom of expression alive and censorship at bay, and therefore help to sustain one of the essential mainstays of democracy.