Monday, May 26, 2008

Banned from the Library

I am now officially banned from the library.

Not by the library or the ALA (American Library Association) or anything like that, of course--I'm sure they're only too happy when I walk through the door to return a book that is two weeks overdue. In fact, I'm positive that they're secretly thrilled when I have to bite the bullet and pay a $17 fine for a book that is probably only worth $15. But I have now officially banned myself from even thinking of entering the hallowed halls of the Denver Public Library, because I am obviously not responsible enough to take advantage of my civil rights. Until I am responsible enough to get a borrowed book back by its due date, I am no longer allowed to borrow said book in the first place.

It's too bad, really. I've been going to the library since before I could read, thanks to my bibliophile mother, and I remember staggering out to the car with piles and piles of books that I would go home and spread out on the living room floor. When I was in high school, the Vandenberg Village Public Library was on my way home, and I would regularly stop in to peruse the new books section (yes, I was that high school girl). I've worked as an English tutor in libraries, surrounded by encyclopedias and books on literary criticism while patiently explaining why one can "think about" but not "consider about" something. I spent hours and hours at the UCLA libraries, either between classes or early in the morning, cramming as much homework and reading into the time as possible.

In fact, even one of the things that I dislike about public libraries--the likelihood of encountering the half-crazed homeless--I take somewhat as a symbol of the freedom of thought. While some might (and do) argue that we should limit library access to the homeless because they aren't reading and are really only taking up space, my response is generally this: the library represents free thought, free speech, and, generally, that which is good about our country. As soon as we start limiting who can and who cannot enter this realm of free thought and free speech, we begin limiting the existence of those very freedoms. While I understand very well that the "slippery slope" argument is a logical fallacy, I can't help but wonder: if we ban the homeless from the libraries, who's next? What other group can "we" decide "we" don't want in the library? So while it is less than thrilling to see the half-crazed homeless lounging on library benches--especially if they try to engage me in conversation--I'm always pleased to see them, because it means at least one of my unalienable rights has yet to be violated.

I can't wait until I'm mature enough and responsible enough to go back. I really can't afford to buy every book that I want to read, but that's the only option I currently have left, I'm afraid.

This brings me to my next point, however, which is books that are banned from the library. I recently found a list of books that have been burned or banned / challenged in public schools or public libraries, due either to religion, racism, sexual content, or language. While I can understand that it is difficult for some people to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without flinching at the rather liberal use of the n-word (which I won't use here for fear of being banned or challenged), is forbidding people from reading the book really the answer? Isn't it much more productive to show how things used to be and discuss how much better-off we are in a post-Civil Rights era? As John Milton said in Areopagitica, "As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye." (Of course, we again could quibble on the definition of a "good" book, but consider this: I once heard that the best-selling book on Amazon when it went international was Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography. Why, you might ask? Because its sale was banned for so many years in Germany to try to repress anti-semitism. Was banning it effective? Probably not. Did it in fact raise awareness of and interest in the novel? Obviously so.)

And so I scanned the list of banned and challenged books, and was quite surprised by what had made it onto the list--almost every good novel of the 20th Century is on the list, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time until the rest of the good novels join the club. Fitzgerald, Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Tolkien--it's actually a fairly impressive group, and I'm sure J.K. Rowling was flattered to have been included.

Anyway, my point is that I'll be compiling my self-assigned reading list from this website (included below), if only because doing so gives me hope for the future... kind of like seeing the homeless in the magazine section at the Central Library Branch. Unfortunately for me, of course, I won't be at the Central Library Branch and will instead need to purchase these books from my nearest bookstore.

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