Banned Books Week this year runs from September 26 through October 2, 2021. Interestingly the American Library Association suggests we “celebrate” this week. I’m not sure if “celebrate” is the correct word, but certainly it’s a good time for me – as both a writer and a reader – to assert publicly my commitment to unfettered free speech.
Yup, even ugly, hateful speech that is repulsive. And definitely speech you don’t agree with or like.
Listening to or reading speech you don’t like can indeed be extremely difficult, even hurtful. However, you can listen or read and exercise your own right to freedom of expression by reacting to it. That can even include not listening or reading it as an option. (As a side note: I believe age should be taken into account. Certain books are not developmentally appropriate for children, but they should have the opportunity to read it when they are older.)
For instance, this summer I decided was finally the time to read Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov. It came highly recommended by one of my favorite podcasts, The History of Literature. The host, Jacke, absolutely raved about it, and in general he has not let me down with his recommendations. And as a reader and writer proud of my personal library shelves, I was embarrassed to admit I’d never even tried to read it. So I downloaded a copy from the Toronto Public Library to my Kobo and dove in.
And after about 50 pages, I just could not stomach another single word of this tale of pedophilia, no matter how beautifully written and brilliant it apparently is. I literally felt like vomiting. And so I stopped reading it.
I almost never stop reading a book before I finish it. It’s just not who I am. But this one felt like violence to me, as a woman and as someone who used to be a girl. So I returned the book.
Personally, I say no. Lolita should not be banned and neither should any other book or speaker. That’s part of the reason I have become disillusioned with the ACLU, that former bastion of free speech.
Because once you start banning books and speech, it’s hard to stop. And you never know when it might be your content that is considered controversial.
Stop banning books. Let free speech flourish.
It can be awful – but the alternative is worse.