Free to Read

By Liana Loewus — October 03, 2008 1 min read
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This Friday marks the end of the 27th annual Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, sponsored by the American Library Association. Having had a week to consider the implications of banning books, it’s worth asking: Why do books come off the shelves in the first place? What are the underlying factors perpetuating censorship?

In an NPR story about book banning, Judith Krug of the ALA suggests it’s a matter of fear, and that people who want to ban books are “not afraid of the book; they’re afraid of the ideas. The materials that are challenged and banned say something about the human condition.”

For Krug, this is nowhere more evident than in the case of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was banned and burned in 1939 in Kern County, Calif., where the end of the story takes place. Officials there thought Steinbeck unfairly portrayed the county’s treatment of migrant workers, and denounced the book as “libel and lie.”

This censorship may have been an attempt to protect the people of Kern County—or to control them—though as Kern County librarian Gretchen Knief wrote at the time, “Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading.” The book ban was relinquished after a year and a half in Kern County, but “The Grapes of Wrath” has faced opposition in schools until as recently as 1993.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.