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When I was growing up in East Texas we didn’t have any money for books. My reading room was the small local library run by an organization of business professional women. To this moment, I can remember checking out my first two volumes -- one was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days; the other was a primer on Greek and Roman mythology (don’t ask me why.) Years later, when I walked into the much larger library at the state college as a freshman, I was practically overwhelmed. I looked down row after row of books and periodicals and thought: “Wow! All this for me?!” Some of the best hours of my life were spent in that library. I even considered majoring in library science, so that I could be near those books.

Which is one reason it pains me today that even in this modern day and age, some folks in communities across America are saying: “No. That Book ISN’T For You” and for reasons that have nothing to do with the community, the school, or the reader -- and everything to do with prejudice.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reports 326 attempts last year to remove or restrict books from school curricula and libraries. Add those to thousands of formal complaints filed with a library or school in the last two decades -- complaints about a book’s content or appropriateness. Can you believe some people don’t want other people to read Brave New World, The Color Purple, To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, The Kite Runner, A Wrinkle in Time, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Light in the Attic, the Harry Potter series, and – ironic if not surprising – Fahrenheit 451.

Think of it: some of the most inspiring and mind-opening words ever written, threatened with removal because they offended a self-deputized vigilante over who wants to deny an entire community’s curiosity and passion to learn.

Censorship is the enemy of truth -- even more than a lie. A lie can be exposed; censorship can prevent us knowing the difference. This is one reason that on my public television broadcast, Moyers & Company, we call out the censors every time we can. And it’s why we’re so grateful to the ALA – as well as the librarians, writers, booksellers, publishers, and neighbors who stand with the Association in observing the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, taking place this year from September 30 – October 6.

Banned Books Week reminds us of the foundation of our freedom -- the First Amendment -- and the freedom of all of us – including our kids – to read and think and nurture the life of the mind.

You can learn more about banned books and banned books week at BillMoyers.com, ALA-DOT-ORG-SLASH-B-BOOKS, bannedbooksweek.org, or your local bookstore or library. Let’s tell the censors -- nothing doing.

I’m Bill Moyers. And you read me right.

The Bane of Banned Books

September 25, 2012

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week,” Bill talks about the impact libraries have had on his youth, his dismay over book challenges in modern times, and why censorship is the biggest enemy of truth.

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  • Strawman411

    “Inquiry is fatal to certainty.”
    ~Will Durant, historian

    Therein lies the “reasoning” behind banning books. Thank you again, Bill, for widening our awareness

  • Anna Call

    It’s still such a huge problem. Boxford Library made a video about it:

    I helped. :)

  • LibraryAdvocate

    Well stated. Hope you will also look into the issue of the tragic result of the reduced access to school libraries. See librarycampaign.csla.net Thank you.

  • Lucius

    Thanks, Bill. The list of books you cited made me laugh because they are some of the most important books ever written. And it would be hilarious if it were not for the pathetic fact that enemies of fee speech want them banned. Censorship may arise from prejudice, but this prejudice has its origins in religion and ignorance, which all too often are hand-in-glove.

  • Peter Gatliff

    After researching the “Business Plot”, Jules Archers book was almost banned by Nixon in 1970. “The Plot To Sieze The White House”. There are only 400 copys on the shelfs in 400 librarys accross the nation. Censorship is alive and well in the USA.

  • Ukeedukee

    Books are banned by frightened little persons. Poor them.

  • Lem

    In the spirit of free debate, discussion, and contrarianism, are there any books that should be banned? For example, should The Satanic Bible be available in public high school libraries? Give reasons.

  • Ken B

    Books broaden the mind, and those who would ban them want to restrict the mind and control thought – Thank you to you and your wife for all the wonderful work you to to preserve Books and all the wonderful gifts that they bring.

  • CD3217

    A debate in absolutes is pointless. A discussion about individual books can be meaningful. The Satanic Bible could be a useful text in studying the occult.

  • MoyersForPresident

    You’ve just outlined the required reading list for my high school students! Banning makes them desirable…

  • Gail K Beil

    Re the “banned” list. First, my 11year-old granddaughter would be up in arms as a number of her favorite books are on the list. Second, think of the irony – the whole commuity reading program has included “To Kill A Mockingbird” more than any other book.

  • VMHF

    As a writer of literary fiction I sometimes wonder if what I write will be banned. When I create a storyline or include information that the far right of any religion or social group might find offensive, I consider the ramifications. Each time I consider this I decide to adhere to Shakespeare’s, “To thine own self be true.” Growing up poor, my imagination was stimulated by books. Some of them literally opened other worlds for me. I am forever grateful. It is my hope as an author to offer the same opportunity to my readers – freedom to become. As far as I am concerned there is no greater gift.

    http://www.whereartmeetstheheart.com.

  • http://dustbowlpoetry.wordpress.com/ Shelley

    What a small world book banners must live in. I told one of my college students that the book she’s reading, Autobiography of Malcolm X, had been banned.

    She just laughed! The joy of the young….

  • Anonymous

    The odd thing about “banned books” is that they are, almost without exception, volumes intended to encourage the reader to think, often to “think outside the box”. Those who oppose such books make it abundantly clear that they are seeking control of the mind. We should take warning. When a book is banned, censored, or restricted in any way, make a point of reading it. Even if the book turns out to be rotten, you will at the very least gain some insight into the mindset of humanity’s worst enemies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004127231192 Eric Taylor

    In the 1960′s I met Mary, the girl who played Scout in the To Kill A Mockingbird, and my brother knew Phil, the boy who played Scouts brother, but it was not until much later that I learned to appreciate the great quality and accuracy of the Movie, and the book that depicted life in the small town South. It’s much better that others learn to appreciate the truth of history through novels and historical literature that are the treasures of our past, and not get caught up in the confusion of the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001487067405 Kris Rosvold

    Read a banned book TODAY (and tomorrow and the day after) It will do your mind lots of good , and it will REALLY piss off the small idiots who ban books!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandtak Ed Brandt

    I used to love it when books were banned. It meant I had to check them out right away. These cowards, so myopic and afraid of ideas, helped me discover Vonnegut and Twain. I guess I owe them a debt of gratitude.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1257826036 Laurel Dufton

    Great shopping list for adding to my NOOK!

  • Julie

    Thank you Bill for keeping us sane. Repression & censorship must be contained for the good of all.. for freedom to think & speak & write is basic to the wellfare of all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cassandra.brandt.50 Cassandra Brandt

    I agree exactly!!! Hi Ed I am a Brandt too!