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Friday, September 5, 2008

That list of banned books

There have been many questions about the source of the list of books that Republican Vice-President nominee Sarah Palin tried to have banned from the Wasilla Public Library, and which I published in part on this blog.

The complete list was posted by a commentator, Andrew Aucoin, on the blog It turns out that the questions were justified, because his list is lifted from the site It is a summary of books that have been banned at one time or another in the United States, and not the books named by Palin -- though who knows which of them might have been included in her kill list.

While one must admire Aucoin's cut-and-pasting skill, this was nothing less than mischievous, because it distracts from the very real issue of censorship, and whether Palin supports it. As Adler & Robin Books, the originator of the list, comments in their preamble, banning books is far too common in the United States, which is a sad and frightening fact.

"Who bans books?" they ask, replying, "Libraries, schools, entire towns, and sometimes, in the past, the United States government."

It happens nearly every week. Luckily, most of the time concerned citizens rise up and protest, and the book is reinstated, but occasionally it goes unnoticed, "and the banned book stays lost to a school or a country."

"Censorship in the United States is an old pastime and new hobby of the feebleminded," the writer vigorously adds. James Joyce's Ulysses was banned by the government, and copies seized by the U.S. Postal Service, as were Voltaire's Candide, Aristophanes's Lysistrata, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. School districts have banned Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, and Little Red Riding Hood has met the same fate. And of course we all know the history of the banning of Darwin's Origin of the Species.

It is a shameful record, particularly for a country that holds such fine ideals of the sanctity of free speech. It is very encouraging indeed that the possibility that someone who believes in censorship of books should hold the second-highest office in the land has met with such an open outcry.

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