I was tempted to buy a t-shirt I saw advertised recently. It featured a row of books on a bookshelf, with titles that included To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The caption under the books said, “I’m with the banned.”

I always enjoy a good play on words. And I’ve actually read most of the books that were listed. But the main reason this t-shirt appealed to me is how important the issue of book-banning is – right now, in 2023. I find it unfathomable and really, really scary that a multitude of books today – including many classics – are being banned and taken off the shelves in schools and libraries across the country. Some are the results of complaints from a single person – in at least one case, from a person who readily admitted that she hadn’t read the book before demanding it be removed.

I’m thinking now of Fahrenheit 451, a cautionary tale warning about the dangers of censorship. It takes place in a futuristic America where all books are banned, and are set ablaze whenever and wherever they are discovered. The book, which was named for the temperature at which paper burns, has itself spent time on various lists of banned books. How’s that for irony?

I remember a book report I once had to write in a high school English class. We were given a list of books to choose from, and a few of them required a note from a parent, saying we had their permission to read that particular book. Naturally, those were the books many of us were drawn to, and for that very reason. The book I chose was The Catcher in the Rye, and I don’t think I was scarred in any way for having read it.

One of the books on my bookshelf today is: 120 Banned Books: Censorship Histories of World Literature. The books are categorized by the reason they were banned, including political, religious, sexual, and social grounds. Among the titles: All Quiet on the Western Front, Doctor Zhivago, The Grapes of Wrath, The Bible, The Koran, The Talmud, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Canterbury Tales, and Cujo.

I think there is more danger in not having books such as these available to readers than in anything that can be found on the pages within their covers.

I’m not sure what is the best way to fight what I see as a dangerous trend and an assault on one of our treasured freedoms. One thing I can do, and which I’m going to start doing right now, is to make a point of reading books that have been banned at one time or another in our country – while I still can.

And maybe I’ll  order that t-shirt after all.

August 8, 2023
©Betty Liedtke, 2023

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