In liberal democratic countries, challenges over the freedom to read, especially successful ones, are unusual and seem to occur at the margins, especially when the concern involves the reading material for children and young adults. It is only in those other countries, the so-called authoritarian ones, where disputes over the freedom to read carry serious penalties, even death. In recent times, libraries have often been rallying points and cheerleaders for this implied democratic value, perhaps to the point of dismissing anything that threatens this cherished right. In carrying out our civic duty in relation to this democratic value, it is vital to understand those thoughtful individuals and organizations who wish to moderate this canonical virtue. Whatever the outcome, the freedom to read what others have to say by way of modifying this freedom, is ours to enjoy, at least as adults. To that end, this guide tries to take a closer look at the different perspectives and nuanced voices that may be different from our own.
Speaking in the Canadian context, author Lawrence Hill, himself a subject of book burning, notes, "I think fundamentally we [people who live in Canada] do believe, profoundly, in the necessity of freedom of expression, the freedom to read and to write, but I think we are often complacent about various efforts to stymie it." (CBC, 2013) While this guide does not discuss the apparent atmosphere of complacency, it does delve into the good and bad ideas of those inside and outside of Canada who might wish to tread a little on this freedom to read thing.
In June 2011, Lawrence Hill, Canadian author of The Book of Negroes, received a letter from Roy Groenberg, Chairman Foundation Honor and Restore Victims of Slavery in Suriname, in Amsterdam, threatening to burn copies of the book on June 22nd, 2011. Mr. Groenberg went on to burn only four copies of the book's cover in Amsterdam's Oosterpark.
In a measured reaction to the cover burning, Lawrence Hill went on to write, Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning. In the 32 pages of this book, Hill seems to follow the path of the model citizen in a liberal democracy, by carefully studying the position of Roy Groenberg and the Dutch Surinamese, empathizing with them while disagreeing with their actions and calling for a dialogue on these matters.
Passages from the book:
"One emotional challenge for me, in dealing with the issue, was that the Dutch book burners, albeit small in number, were people of Surinamese descent. Suriname, in South America, was one of the most important slave colonies of the Dutch. In the broader Diaspora of African peoples, these are my own people. And it hurts, frankly, when your own people reject you, or tell you that you don't belong, or challenge the very identity that you have shaped for yourself. I don't agree with those who burned my book. But I empathize with them. And that, and the troubling relationship we have with books that offend us deeply, is what I want to talk about." (p. 11)
Hill concludes, "I can't see any good coming out of burning or banning books. Let's talk, instead." (p. 32)
This incident is discussed in detail under the heading, Burning Books.
In the style of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal...
In The case for book burning the author decries the fragmented professionalism among university and college professors and administrators, which has gone hand-in-hand with the zealous emphasis on publishing at all costs, and calls for a renewed emphasis on real teaching.
"This is where the book burning comes in, but this time the periodicals go first. The point is not to curtail academic inquiry. Halting irrelevant production is the opposite of censorship. It's a way to save the purpose of undergraduate education." (The case for book burning, 1987, p. 8)
Dear sir, I intend to burn your book. (2013, Apr. 16). CBC interview on Q. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2013/04/dear-sir-i-intend-to-burn-your-book-1.html
Hill, L. (2013). Dear sir, I intend to burn your book: An anatomy of a book burning. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press.
The case for book burning. (1987). New Republic. 197: 7-10.