Burning Books? That Still Happens?

By Walid El Masri

The important task of literature is to free man, not to censor him, and that is why Puritanism was the most destructive and evil force which ever oppressed people and their literature: it created hypocrisy, perversion, fears, sterility.
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

“Love is never any better than the lover.” This quote is from the ‘infamous’ novel The Bluest Eye by the award-winning author Toni Morrison. This novel was her iconic debut and one of the most highly censored books in the world. It was stated that its ban was because of it being “sexually explicit,” “[having] lots of graphic descriptions and lots of disturbing languages,” and “an underlying socialist-communist agenda,” and most importantly a “bad book”. These reasons are invalid. One cannot ban a book for one’s pleasure and utilitarianism. One of the reasons is due to Morrison having a “socialist-communist agenda,” which is quite ironic. Morrison’s novel merely portrays the issues that black, and people of color undergo in past and present communities. This novel is considered timeless and true. However, Morrison did not stop writing despite her reputation being dented. Nevertheless, she wrote eleven novels in her nearly-fifty-year lengthy career and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for fiction, alongside many other notable awards. One can see that Morrison never gave up on the cause of writing, she continued, and she thrived.

Surprisingly, in current times books are still being burned, it seems like a myth that should be told to kids when they misbehave. It is a story like that of the Library of Alexandria, the library that was said to contain all the knowledge in the world and that was burned several times. Accidentally once by Julius Caesar in 48BC, and again by the Christian Patriarch of Alexandria in 392AD, and lastly in 642 by Caliph Omar; or in 213BC, or when the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered a bonfire of books.

 It should be considered a horror book rather than actual reality, however, in our dystopian times, anything has become possible. Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 is now labeled under speculative fiction rather than Science Fiction. And current people in power are not doing anything to stop it, but rather feed into the book burning like giving firewood, but presently they are giving books to fire. Many authors have spoken up about this recurring issue. Kurt Vonnegut sent a great letter in 1973 to the people burning his books. He said “…, as being rat-like people [writers] who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people.” Authors never intend to hurt their readers, especially young ones, but rather educate them on the harshness of the world around them. The hierarchy that censors these books is scared that if kids know the truth, they will be enlightened to make a change, and that change is to remove the people with torches. Vonnegut later said, “Perhaps you will learn from this [letter] that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them.”

It seems quite ridiculous that authors must write about such horrible things, firing back at the community that bans and burns their books. Because books are not just the ink and paper that are printed, but the words and sentences that diligent people create. This has even caused fear among young writers to write outside the lines, writing and expression have become this barbed wire around the necks of knowledge givers and storytellers. This will forever show the indecency, stupidity, and futility that has become of our communities. An example of this is by the Frisco Independent School District (Frisco ISD) is a school district in Frisco, Texas, responsible for providing education to students in the Frisco area. It’s a local organization that manages schools in the community. However, is this organizations doing students good or harm?

Near the end of 2022 Frisco ISD, Texas declared: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Handmaid’s Tale novel and graphic novel by Margaret Atwood, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, and fifty other titles “Obscene”. In total, they banned 113 titles, including one on black holes by Stephan Hawking, all because these books were considered ‘Obscene’. One of the books on the list is George Orwell’s Famous dystopian novel 1984 as also ‘Obscene’, Atwood took to twitter and wrote “1984? For porn???”

“Under the Boston Law, they can pick out a single paragraph, or even a single sentence which they do not like, and on the basis of this, they can advertise an entire book, which may be otherwise quite all right from the prudish point of view.” Upton Sinclair, a writer whose book is also banned, in The New Yorker. And one thing all these banned and burned books have in common is the topics of LGBTQ+ and racial inequality; that says a lot about the people we entrust our future with.

Going back, Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author and poet, has been facing issues surrounding her speculative fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale due to the book containing both “violence and profanity”, and that it also “depicts sexual activity” and “Political messaging and anti-Christianity”; those were the following ‘reasons’ for the books banning. Proponents of banning it have pointed to all of these, with predictable “Think of the children!” handwringing, while other books that contain more than adequate amounts of issues sit unchallenged and relaxed on school library shelves, while others, as mentioned, are subjectively chosen, labelled, and banned. As a result, PEN America and Penguin Random House created The Unburnable Book, “A book that fights censorship.” It was printed and bound using fireproof materials that made it unburnable, and it is designed to protect this vital story and stand as a powerful symbol against censorship. When the book went to auction at Sotheby’s, it was sold for $130,000, with all the proceeds going to PEN America.

In summary, all the examples given above are mere actions by people in power to challenge the community, but some people, like the authors and poets, spoke up about this issue. In life, one faces many obstacles and issues that may result in one feeling helpless, but that is the thing about motivation. As humans, it is in one’s instinct to naturally fight for what they believe to be noble, and this topic and issue is one of the most honorable obstacles to fight for. Writers are hopeful because organizations that oppose book banning and burning are emerging, and the collective efforts of everyone involved will eventually lead to victory in this battle. Although independence is quite important, when communities, regions, and countries unite to fight for what is noble and true, they will inevitably succeed. Even if the titles of banned books are on the rise, it acts as a stimulus for people to speak and write and fight this issue, because one can rise only if they are motivated enough to continue and fight no matter the obstacle that stands before them.

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