“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless,” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
A long time ago, I used to read novel submissions for an independent publisher. I’d be sent submissions, read them, and then submit a short synopsis of the book and my recommendation on whether or not to sign the author. Even though I didn’t get paid for it, the job was entertaining because I got to read raw, unfiltered writing talent. The job was also interesting because it gave me a peek behind the book publishing world.
While I don’t remember most of the submissions I read, I do remember one in particular. I won’t name the author or the title of the work, but I will say that it was beyond graphic. As a guy who has immersed himself in violent video games, horror books, and horror films since middle school I think that I have a pretty decent threshold for gore and violence.
This submission, however, left me queasy.
It was torture simply for the sake of torture. If you’ve ever seen the Eli Roth film Hostel (2005), you’ll know what I mean. Needless to say, I recommended passing on it. Now, I know what you’re all going to say. “But Jim, that’s just your own personal opinion. Some people might like that type of literature.” And, you’d be right. It’s sad to say, but there are fans for every type of book ever written. Just look at James Patterson or Fifty Shades of Grey. When I worked as a submissions reader, I didn’t think about my own taste and preference. I thought about the publisher and the books it published. Was a submission in line with the genres it put out? Did the publisher want to push the limits of what fans would like? Did the submission need more editing than it was worth? Did the story make sense? Were the protagonists relatable to the reader? All of those things I considered as I read each submission.
My publisher agreed with me and passed on the book. I noticed earlier this year that the book was published (I believe self-published).
Banned Books Week runs from Sept. 26 to Oct. 2 and is the annual celebration of the freedom to read. Because whether you like it or not, we all have the right to write anything we’d like. I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or if the groups behind Banned Books Week planned it that way, but the week prior is Constitution Week.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, adopted on Dec. 15, 1791.
Of course, eagle eye readers will inevitably point out that this only really applies to Americans. Obviously, I know that if you’re a citizen of the Ukraine, you’re not really going to care about how the First Amendment of a foreign country applies to your daily life.
Going back to the topic of this long-winded rant, should books be banned? As much as it pains me to admit, every book should be written. That’s right, even the books by James Patterson and (insert name of author who really writes the book).
No matter how terrible a book is or how offensive a book is, it shouldn’t be banned from public consumption. ***editor’s note: I’m cringing as I write this because I know it’s going to come back to haunt me like a bad trip to Taco Bell.***
My reasoning is this: when you start banning books because they may be offensive to a person or a group of people, you’re putting yourself on a slippery slope. If you go down that path, you’re going to find that every book has something in that is offensive. If you stare long enough at something, you’re going to find a defect. The same applies with literature. Just look at Dr. Suess. If you told me in January 2021 that a few months later six Dr. Suess books would be discontinued because of racist and insensitive imagery, I’d call you crazy.
It all goes back to that cautionary tale by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. I read that last year and it’s truly a masterpiece of what could happen when censorship runs wild. I implore everyone to read that book as soon as possible.
The quote at the beginning of this rant is true. Books are feared and hated because they show the pores in the face of life. Have you ever noticed that in this age of social influencers, you’ll rarely see a photo of a famous Instagrammer without the aid of a filter or covered in makeup? That cute cat filter and that brand name makeup they’re promoting is a form of censorship. They don’t want you to see what they really look like so they cover it up.
Again, I know what you’re going to say. “But Jim, there are some really foul books out there that need to be taken off the shelves.”
And once again, you’re absolutely right. Books like Kissing the Coronavirus, Fifty Shades of Grey, Ice Planet Barbarians are just a couple of books that should be taken down. In my opinion.
Those three words “In my opinion” are the kicker. If books were truly banned like in Fahrenheit 451, who would figure out what books to ban? What would be the criteria? Would you confiscate and then destroy them? What would you do if someone tried publishing and distributing banned books? What about digital books?
Let’s say, hypothetically, a committee of people from all walks of life is convened to look at a book and judge wether or not to ban it from public consumption. Is it an unanimous or majority vote? Will the public be able to voice their opinions for and against? Would there be exemptions like religious texts?
In my opinion, if you ban one book, you really should ban them all.
Banned Books Week is important because it brings to light the fact that books still have power. Books shouldn’t be ignored in favor of films. They should be treated with the care and respect they deserve.
I often quote my favorite author, Stephen King. He once wrote that “books are uniquely portable magic.” And he’s right.
Magic is power and in the wrong hands it can be deadly.