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Banned Books Week -- does it matter?

September 29, 2008 | 12:22 pm

Should_this_book_be_banned? Today's the start of Banned Books Week, an event founded by the American Library Assn. back in 1982 and observed -- and argued about -- ever since. The Times' book editor David Ulin takes a look at the annual event:

I'm ambivalent about Banned Books Week, which runs through Saturday. On the one hand, we clearly still need such a public affirmation, as the recent tumult over Sarah Palin and her "rhetorical" inquiries to the Wasilla, Alaska, public library show.

On the other, Banned Books Week offers up the sort of toothless, feel-good spectacle that makes us less likely to consider the actual ramifications of free expression.

The basic message here is one of astonishment: Why would anyone ban books when literature is such a positive and ennobling force? Yet, while I agree with that, I also believe that some books truly are dangerous, and to ignore that is simply disingenuous.

Lest this make me seem an apologist for the book banners, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I'm against restricting anything other than material that graphically portrays certain illegal acts.

Yet it's foolish, self-defeating even, to pretend that books are innocuous, that we don't need to concern ourselves with what they say. If that's the case, then it doesn't really matter if we ban them, because we have already stripped them of their power.

More in David's essay.

-- Veronique de Turenne

Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times