The publicity that this gets in the United States these days is getting better every year, but did you know that it is Banned Books Week? And did you know that some serious pencil heroes are frequently on the list of banned authors? We’ll just mention two: Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and In Our Time are all on the list of the top 20th century American novels (even though the last one is really a short story collection). The first three have been challenged or banned in the United States, because characters drink, shoot each other and promiscuously sleep around. While it is certainly one’s prerogative to boycott these works and to forbid one’s children from reading them, it is no one’s right in a country with free speech to ban them for the rest of us, to decide what’s fit or decent for everyone else to read. Perhaps it’s idealistic, overly academic or politcally callous to declare, but banning books in the United State is just a contradiction of the entire idea of freedom of speech.
Picture a world without the novels of John Steinbeck, for instance — another pencil user whose works have been challenged or banned in this country, most notably The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Would we really presume to tell everyone else what they can and cannot read, as if we have the ultimate moral perspective and know what is best for all of our fellow citizens?
True, any connection between these banned authors and the pencils that they used to create their contraversial and, some would say revolutionary, books is tenuous or symbolic at best. But just imagine that the books these writers are most known for were written with ordinary pencils. We all certainly have pencils, as well as paper (or walls) to write on. Combine these with a true freedom of speech, and there’s little to stop us all from writing great novels, poems, essays or short stories. And the more revolutionary, the better.