Banned Book Week – Books Can Be Beaten Down

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22874 – 987

Here’s the haps:

I was over at Author Sarah Angleton’s blog today and was reminded that it’s Banned Book Week. If you’ve never visited Sarah you are missing out. She takes strange, sometimes esoteric incidents from history and weaves them into a post about modern days. Sometimes they are personal posts but often they have a message that should make you ponder a bit.

People who have known me for a while or read my blog for a while know that I have said Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is probably one of the most important books a person can and should read. While Orwell’s 1984 may be more accurate I think Bradbury leaves us with a glimmer of hope, which Orwell does not. Both books should be read by every member of every society and if you do read 1984, when you get to the end, take a piece of paper and cover the last paragraph, especially the last sentence of the book. Don’t let yourself read that until the very end. It gave me cold goosebumps and nightmares. Fahrenheit 451 did not do that, exactly, but made a vivid, lasting impression on me when I first read it when I was 15 and the several times I’ve read it since.

If you are not familiar with Bradbury’s story, it is set in a future time surprisingly like our own in a country very much like ours. The Protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman of the time whose job is not to put fires out, but to start them. Houses have all been fireproofed but books have been outlawed completely. If you are found to own a book, your books and your house are all burned and you are imprisoned. The title comes from the temperature at which book paper combusts. Written in the early 50’s, Bradbury describes a society where people never go anywhere without their “ear-bud” radios plugged into their ears. They watch TV on giant, wall-sized screens and never do anything else.

Books came to be outlawed by a process remarkably similar to the “Political Correctness” we see today. Some group found a certain book to be offensive and protested its printing, held burnings and got it banned. Another group found a different book offensive. Some found the Bible offensive, others found other writings offensive as all the while the people became less and less involved with the government and how it was run and more and more involved in personal entertainment. They eventually became so complacent and believed the propaganda spewed into their ear-buds and out of their TVs that it was not difficult for the government to pass laws, at first outlawing only certain books nobody ever really cared about or read anyways. The people continued feeding their minds on the pap from the carefully crafted, “inoffensive” TV shows while the government banned more and more books until finally all books were against the law.

It started out with people being made to believe they could not say whatever they wanted for fear of offending someone or some group or even the government while at the same time others became so thin-skinned that they took everything as a personal insult and provocation. The right not to be offended took the place of the right to free speech.

Please read this book. I have a favorite quote from the book, which is said when there is a conversation about the wall-sized T.V. sets with their programs that don’t even give you time to think about what they are saying, if they are saying anything at all. The point of the discussion is that books are not bad because,

“Books can be beaten down with reason.”

I had intended to end this post with that quote but there is another, more poignant and true quote to end with:

“‘Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.’”

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

Featured Image by Movidagrafica Barcelona: https://www.pexels.com/photo/burning-book-page-1474928/

39 Comments

  1. People of any political/religious persuasion who advocate censorship do not realize they only spark the curiosity of otherwise disinterested people to read “forbidden” material.

  2. Bradbury was a genius story teller and I read this book and Orwell’s 1984 early on in life. These guys were prophetic. Another couple of good reads are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Soylent Green by Harry Harrison. Every country and every politician has their own propaganda. It is left to the listeners to decide what and who they believe. Many countries do not even get that privilege. Not sure when the human race will become caring tolerant and compassionate again. Stay well Herb. Allan

    • The complete banning of offensive books is never appropriate, but age-specific content exposure as Herb recommends is simply “common sense,” which is a misnomer, because if it were common more people would have some! 😁
      “If there is time to expose through discussion falsehood and fallacies, to avert evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” (Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis)

  3. Very well said Herb. I read both books back in my teens but really don’t remember much about them. But it seems our society is heading that direction of those books. I should read them again.😊😺🍂🍁☕

  4. Great post and probably my two favourite books of all time. I read 451 at least once a year. As you say, just a glimmer of hope at the end. No such in 1984, but the book is so prescient, it is truly alarming. Just a note for anyone who hasn’t read 1984 before – read the glossary first, including the basics of Newspeak: it will help so much. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Bradbury had a version where Clarisse did not disappear, and I like to think that she’s actually out there waiting for Montag on the walk home… Great post Herb. Thank you

    • I’ve never heard of that version but I would like to read it as well. I think the disappearance of Clarisse was a necessary catalyst in the story, myself but I would be willing to read a version like that if it were by Bradbury.

  5. Social media is full of self-proclaimed crusaders who are busy pretending someone else’s thoughts they don’t understand are their own.

    I’ve become disenfranchised with books that are supposed to be warnings. Usually they’re not really warnings at all but a commentary on a society that is already doing what they’re depicting. So why beat around the bush? It just gives someone the idea they *know* how things will turn out if we continue down a path. But if we’re on a path, having read a book that’s similar to that path won’t change the direction of that path. Nor will the path lead to where the book suggested it would.

    So I prefer books that understand people, individuals, that paint a portrait of the times.

      • Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a comprehensive portrait of the wide-ranging lives that revolve around a series of murders in a Mexican border town. There are literary critics, a boxing journalist, a teacher, the man accused of the murders, and his father, whose life stretches back to WWII Germany. Bolaño on the whole can’t be missed. He tackles the idea of those German exiles in other works, such as the short novel Distant Star. What’s most fascinating about Bolaño is that he was a Chilean displaced by a dictator, and ended up traveling the globe, and his journeys are constantly reflected in his fiction. He never allows himself to be swallowed up in grim thoughts. He’s ever predicated on the power of words. His best-known work is The Savage Detectives, about a pair of rogue poets we follow in the periphery of a group that tries to keep up with them. He considered himself a poet but his fiction was more engaging.

        Or you might consider Javier Marías, who passed away earlier this month. His crowning achievement was the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, in which he takes in an expansive look at a hitman who is himself being hunted, who as a result reflects on his life, including the mentor who lived through the intrigues of WWII.

        I guess the point is, I don’t think fiction, for adults, needs to try and warn us of things. We’ve already seen things. It’s worth looking at those things in order to understand them, how and why they happened. You ought to appreciate how often Democrats have tried to paint Trump as Hitler. This was always ridiculous. They tried to say he would never leave office. They’re still trying to say he tried to lead an insurrection. Surely the most ineffective insurrection in history, if he did. This is what happens when people try to make comparisons where none exist.

        1984 was nothing more than the Soviet state in allegory. And I find it incredible that anyone would try to deny this, but I’ve seen it repeatedly. By distorting it, it begins to look like something else. I’ve read Fahrenheit 451. I don’t really remember it now. But in your description it sounds like another cultural warpath, the same logic that endlessly insists books will always be more sophisticated than film, that no film adaptation could ever be as good as the written source material. You don’t need to protect books. Books will exist as long as there are people to read them, to write them. And book burning is another Soviet thing anyway.

        And I’ve grown increasingly cynical of Banned Books Week itself. It can look like a glorified ego boost; those people who don’t think like us think no one should read what we read! They want to block this new cultural truth from spreading!

        …We are long, long past that from being possible. Americans are, on the whole, an incredibly literate population. We have access to books almost at whim. But there are few enough bookstores, now, because few enough are actually reading. We can order whatever we want online. Parents can purchase whatever they want. And kids will read what they want to read, however they want to do it. Who are we kidding?

        I get the idea. I get that it’s noble. But I think it’s misguided. Send the message to the target audience. But don’t feel compelled to broadcast it everywhere else. I’m not so keen on virtue signaling.

        • “You ought to appreciate how often Democrats have tried to paint Trump as Hitler. This was always ridiculous.” This is well said. I am in the UK and even I can see that, yet on sites I visit on WordPress there are the Biden lovers who must share their glorious leaders lack of brains.

          Yet they do make some good points too on some matters (not Biden though), but they lack humility and that is the big problem. When I do point out their good comments, they may grudgingly appreciate it but it seems on the whole not.

          As others have said, blaming Trump deflects the terminally dim’s attention from the serious issues with the USA’s current administration, or should I say maladministration.

          Of course if it’s not Trump it’s the Russia/Ukraine situation. Or Covid 19/’the flu.

          Anything as long as people don’t realise that the very thing that Trump is vilified for is in fact being done by Biden and his cronies. Although Biden is only a puppet or Muppet.

  6. Age appropriate – but who gets to decide? When I was in High School (Grades 10-12), there were books that the school decided were not appropriate – so they weren’t available in the school library. The fact that they were considered unsuitable just made us want to read them, so we would just go to the community library.

    • Well, I think schools and public libraries have very different responsibilities. As Swabby429 pointed out, sometimes banning something only heightens curiosity about it. And I know there have been some books that they wanted us to read that were unavailable in the school library, I think on purpose.

  7. And another thing! I’ve finally read Maus, the graphic novel about the Holocaust. This is another one that’s frequently challenged, and the popular narrative loves to suggest that it’s because these parents don’t want their kids learning about the Holocaust. No! They just don’t want them reading comic books! They have no idea what Maus actually is. They just see that it’s a comic book, and we have seventy years of people saying comics are nothing but junk literature, and people who have made up their minds about something simply aren’t too keen on changing them.

    Maus itself is actually incredibly curious. It depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Traditionally, enemies in the real world, predator and prey. An odd creative decision. Anyone could see that, given the visual nature of the work. You don’t need to read it to see that. But if you do read it, you’ll find a lot of things you might have already known about the Holocaust, that you would hardly have to read Maus to learn about. It actually spends most of its time exploring the effects the Holocaust had on the creator’s father, and in that sense it’s valuable for reasons well beyond the Holocaust. What most people think OF the Holocaust, the death camps, isn’t really overly explored at all, and certainly not as you might expect.

    And I suspect many books in these challenged states are like that. To confer on them special status is to actually advertise them. A lot of it just seems like a gimmick to sell books. If you’re trying to keep them in a student library, that’s fine be thing. If you’re trying to get people to visit libraries in general, that’s one thing. But what’re the odds?

    • Thats an incredible book. Yes its comic art but it falls into the category of Graphic Novel Memoir, definitely heavy reading at times.

  8. I have to say I heard of banning books (or probably even burning books) often these days and I wonder why. Most books are digitalized now and I don’t know how burning a physical book will help or how banning books is possible unless the access to internet is also banned. Somehow I just pray that politics will not get too crazy or ugly.

    • I daresay politics are already crazy and ugly.
      You make a very valid point. In this day and age when so many young people have phones or devices it seems like you would only be enticing them to look at something that you “banned.” it’s free advertising.

  9. I don’t think anything should be banned, perhaps the people who run school libraries should be schooled in making better decisions as to what is appropriate for certain age groups.

    • I would definitely agree with that. Public libraries should be different and even then I remember there were items in our library I couldn’t get ahold of until I was over 18. Back in the olden days.

      • Same here Herb, my public library kept questionable books in the basement . I remember being told at 13 that I had to wait 4 years til I could read a book by Henry Miller. Think it was Tropic of Cancer. Sensible people existed back in ’83

  10. I started reading Orwell at age 15 and he made such an impact on my desire to read. I was a little older when I stumbled on Fahrenheit 451, It also blew my mind. Unlike you and some of your readers, I have not been diligent enough to reread. Just think of the massive influence a good writer has over multiple generations.

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