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Ray Bradbury and Banned Books

June 6, 2012

Today Ray Bradury died at age 91. Bradbury was the author of numerous science fiction books and series including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked this way Comes.

While reading about his life in writing I was drawn to the fact that his book Fahrenheit 451 was banned in some areas. This struck me as ironic because Fahrenheit 451 is about a world where reading books is prohibited, and the main character, Guy Montag, works as a fireman whose job it is to burn books. In Bradbury’s dystopian world, reading is a freedom that the government wants desperately to sensor.

Many books have been banned throughout the U.S., despite the importance of the First Amendment. The American Library Association keeps a record of titles that have been censored or banned at the community level. The top three reasons for challenging and banning books according to the American Library Association include: the use of sexually explicit material, containing offensive language, or using material that is “unsuited to any age group”.

Forty-six of the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned at one point in time or in at least one location, including 9 of the top 10 (The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill and Mockingbird, The Color Purple, Ulysses, Beloved, The Lord of the Flies, and 1984).

In my opinion, books are challenged and banned because of fear. Parents fear children cannot think for themselves, cannot determine right from wrong, and cannot experience creativity without emulation. School administrators fear parents will blame them for exposing children to adult themes that they then want to talk about and participate in. Governments fear they will lose power, as literature can brainwash the masses into opposition.

In looking at the banned book list of classics on the American Library Association’s website I see many books that I have read and enjoyed. Many of the reasons I enjoyed them are the same as the reasons why people fear them. They encourage the reader to think about social and moral issues, they encourage discussion about taboo topics, and they expose the reader to opinions that may be unpopular but still deserve consideration.

I think the concept of banning books shows that people give our children and the reading public too little credit. Reading is a gateway to knowledge and thought which people have a right to access. Reducing access to this gateway is not an appropriate way to deal with the fear of knowledge. In this same thread, the American Library Association hosts a Banned Books Week every year to talk about the freedom to read and the First Amendment. I encourage you to explore the American Library Association’s website to learn about measures that are being implemented to spread the word about these essential First Amendment rights.

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