098 Prohibited works

If I were a publisher or an author, I would think having someone (say,
Sarah Palin, for instance) ban my book would bring me the kind of P.R. even the most seasoned media flak only wishes he could drum up. Seems to me it would have the same effect as slapping a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” label (thank you, Tipper Gore) on a CD, or giving a movie an NC-17 rating: gotta have that forbidden fruit, know what I mean?

As we gear up for Banned Books Week next week, I would like to suggest that the nation’s presses consider doing exactly that: proudly trumpeting the fact that someone has deemed their products dangerous, unacceptable, potentially corrupting or whatever the complaint may be. A sticker on the front cover that says, “This book is banned in 17 states,” or “Most vandalized book of 2008,” “Most Burned Book of the Century.” Something like that. We could call these stickers “Badges of Honor.” Shape them like little medals, give them a faux-metallic finish, the whole bit.

A friend of mine ran a public library in South Carolina where he was constantly having to reorder one or another of the Harry Potter books because someone was always defacing them, tearing out offending passages or just stealing the books outright. I don’t even think the books are that good, but actions like these elevate an otherwise mediocre series to hero status, and, more important, probably don’t hurt book sales much, either.

I had another friend who ran a public library in a town in central Massachusetts. A group of parents who educated their children themselves would come in regularly and demand that this or that book be taken off the shelves. These home-schooling parents made life pretty hard for my friend, one of the most easygoing, non-confrontational guys I’ve ever met. He still grimaces when he talks about it.

So, whether we’re talking about Harry Potter, Robert Cormier, Lois Lowry or Daddy’s Roommate, let’s turn my friends’ nightmares into something good. Let’s remind the enemies of free thought just how badly their efforts at suppressing speech can backfire.