Friday, October 05, 2007

Safe and Comfy Banned Books

Independent booksellers are wrapping up the festival of congratulatory back-patting called Banned Books Week. Once again, they decline to recommend any books that have actually been banned in recent memory, instead highlighting “challenged” titles like Harry Potter, represented on both Booksense’s Banned Books Week Top 10 list and the ABFFE’s list of 100 banned or challenged books. If Harry Potter, with tens of millions of copies in print, seriously qualifies as a banned book, every author should be so banned. The hypocrisy was too thick for one indy store, who recently mocked the hoopla for its political correctness.

If booksellers wanted to actually stand up for free expression, instead of building some merchandising around hollow posturing, they would be hand-selling books by authors like Salman Rushdie, who have had fatwas issued against them by Islamic fundamentalist extremists. Indeed, The Satanic Verses would be a novel selection, since it has actually been banned. Of course, recommending legitimately banned books during Banned Books Week, might, you know, offend someone. Better to just push Harry Potter, and pretend you’re standing up to the dark specter of Christian Fundamentalism. Then there would be no consequences to worry about.

If you want to actually support banned books, try hand-selling books by the signatories of the February 2, 2006 manifesto for intellectual freedom published in response to the violent protests surrounding the Danish cartoons. Writers like Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Mehdi Mozaffari, and Irshad Manji live in constant fear for their lives because their writings have offended the sensibilities of Islamic Fascists. You will also learn a lot more about the price of free expression and the state of the world from their books than from a bubblegum YA fantasy.

(Disclosure: Rushdie and Manji have been published by a corporate cousin of my employer. Their sales have no effect on my duties or compensation.)