The Freedom To Read Whatever You Want

A few weeks ago it was banned books week, but obviously this is a topic worth talking about all year round. In fact it is something that *must* be discussed all year round.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but censorship is wrong. Yup- that’s right, I’m against censorship- who’d have thunk it? (erm- well most people I hope!) I am anti-censorship in the same way I am a firm believer of freedom of speech. The no holds barred kind. The “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” kind. I hold a wide variety of political views, but when it comes to freedom of speech, my liberal and libertarian sides come out. I inherently believe that we should be open to trying anything and at the same time leave people to read whatever the hell they like.

So that clears up most things, right? Yet I want to take this censorship issue further. Because when it comes to books, I am not going to censor myself. Some people may disagree with this approach to reading- but for me the way I choose books is *entirely meritocratic*. I don’t care where things come from or who wrote it- if it’s good, I want in.

More than that, I am open to read anything, regardless of the source. There are certain horrifically bigoted, but genius authors that I love (I won’t ruin people’s childhoods by saying who). I do my best to read their work and judge it on its own merits. This is a similar principle to one that Stephen Fry (in “Wagner and Me”) holds about listening to Wagner as a Jew- if it’s good art, it’s worth exploring, regardless of the source. I may be wary of where the money’s going, but that’s it.

Nor will I stop myself from reading something for fear it might upset me or because I don’t agree with the views being espoused. In fact, if I don’t agree with the views being espoused I’ve either got to buoy up my arguments by confronting it head on or change my own opinion- because one of us is wrong here. It’s not just about free speech and letting everyone have their say- it’s about making informed decisions. Being challenged is the only way to grow intellectually.

That means even if something is controversial I will read it. And sometimes I will have controversial opinions about books (if you’ve been around on my blog long enough you will already know this!) You may not like what I read or what I have to say about them, but c’est la vie. In the words of Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” And in the words of Steve Hughes:

Right there is so much more I could say on this issue, but this is not an echo chamber, so let’s get a discussion going! Where do you stand on the issue of censorship of books? Do you ever believe there is an instance where you agree with banning books? And what is your stance on controversial reads? Let me know in the comments!

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27 thoughts on “The Freedom To Read Whatever You Want

  1. Matthew Wright says:

    Here in New Zealand books are subject to the judgement of the Censor’s office, but virtually none are banned – I can think of only two in the last fifty years that I’m aware of, out of the thousands imported and released. Of those two, the latest was banned, un-banned, re-banned and then un-banned again in a kind of ping pong adventure involving a fair amount of public debate. The consensus was that the chief censor had a personal objection to it, but it wasn’t bannable material really. The other one was never unbanned, but should have been as time went on, but the point wasn’t made until a copy turned up in a second hand bookshop still on the banned list.

    I figure that if people are self-aware and self-critical enough, they’ll be able to judge a book for what it is for themselves. They also won’t be ‘corrupted’ by it in any way – they’ll rightly reject what’s unacceptable. And I think most people are able to do that. There’s also a certain amount of personal preference in those choices. I read a book last month that was probably “PG” by any reasonable ratings measure, but which I found pretty revolting for a variety of reasons. I finished the book but declined to read its two sequels. My call and judgement.

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Well I have to say even that is something that surprises me. Even in extreme cases I am not in favour of censorship. I mean, who is one individual to decide which books are and are not appropriate? And do they consider the fact that even controversial books (taking even the most extreme examples) might be important for historical study? Besides, doesn’t banning books only increase a book’s popularity and people’s desire to read it? (I mean just look at the Lady Chatterley’s Lover case in the UK) I dunno, maybe it’s cos it’s late and I’m tired, but I’m struggling to see why there’s a banned list.
      I definitely agree with you about people being able to judge things for themselves. Most people are able to reject these ideas when confronted with them. And the flipside to banning books and silencing ideas is that it often has the reverse effect of making them more desirable. It is better just to tackle the ideas head on.
      Exactly- people are able to discern for themselves what makes them uncomfortable- we don’t need people policing this for us.
      Thanks very much for your excellent comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Shruti | This is Lit says:

    This was a beautifully written post! I follow a similar stance when it comes to banned books – “If it’s good art, it’s worth exploring, regardless of the source”. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And in a way, reading controversial books is good for your mind. This is how you form opinions. This is how you learn a thing or two about the world around you. And banning them just because you’re against them is pathetic. So yeah, everyone should have the freedom to read whatever the hell they want.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Aww thank you so much!! it definitely is- I think whether you come to agree with them or not, they stretch you intellectually in a way that reading other books do not. I one hundred percent agree- it’s a very cowardly way of dealing with them (or not dealing with them as the case may be) Definitely!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. LizScanlon says:

    Absolutely love this post and even though I don’t really know you my opinion of you grew a lot by how you expressed yourself.
    Censorship will continue to exist because of fear. Whether that fear is founded or not is to be agreed/disagreed in various ways by various people. Personally I don’t agree with censorship… in anything! Books, music, films, news!

    One of Estonian authors Kaur Kender was in court not so long ago (this year) for his book Untitled 12. here’s the blurb:
    “UNTITLED 12 is Kaur Kender’s 10th novel. Scratching, cruel, relentless, ruthless satire of Eastern European fascist porn addicted society, where rich ethnical Estonians can do whatever they please to whomever they want. Published in Estonia in 2014 UNTITLED 12 quickly became the most important and controversial literary work ever written in Estonian. Transgressive and horrific, it never pretends to offer more than the detached surgical observation of sick characters in the cynical, cold, hopeless world. Enjoy the tour in hell known as Eastern Europe.”

    Kaur was sued for child pornograhy. I haven’t read the book, but because Kaur is also a gonzo-journalist who believes in free speech and no secrets (he started a website where people can freely publish stories from their lives on politics, education, drugs, etc.. to show the true face of society), the court scripts were all written down, even translated to English and when I read the scripts I was blown away. Kaur was adamant that he was writing a satirical horror piece and was no worse than Marquis De Sade, whose works even though controversial are still readily available for reading. The main defending argument on Kaur’ work was this: this is a book, a fictional story where he wants to shock the reader, make them truly afraid, while ridiculing porn addicted society, and NO ONE was hurt as a result of this book.

    Anyway, needless to say, with matters such as this the audience always divides into groups- the ones who backed him, the ones who were against him and the ones who didn’t care.
    Fact is- Estonia got portrayed a laughing stock in few foreign newspapers for censorship and Kaur Kender was sentenced to undergo psychiatric assessment. I do not know the outcome of this…

    I think censorship is never going to go away, all we (more tolerant, open minded people) can do is to keep fighting for the right of art in any form to remain without limits when it comes to expressing and presenting- a story, a song, an image… as many people as there is in the world, there will always be someone who finds something offensive. And it’s their right, no one can make them change their mind. What I would like to see happening, as with so many other controversial economic and societal topics, is for two sides to find a way to tone down the attacks on each other and find ways to just live and freaking let live! In my eyes, there is NO one right way! We are all moulded by our upbringings society, environment and everyone has the right to believe in whatever the hell they want to believe. The problem is people’s unwillingness to accept that their truth isn’t necessarily everyone else’s truth as well and to accept that their truth doesn’t give them the right to hurt/discriminate/abuse others.

    *sorry for the long comment* 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Aww thank you so much for saying that- that means a lot.
      I one hundred percent agree- I don’t want any form of media or literature to be censored.
      Gosh I didn’t know Kaur Kender’s story- thank you so much for sharing this with me. I’m going to have to look into this case more, because now I am curious about the book! And I want to know what ended up happening to him!! It is terrible that he was punished in such a way.
      I agree that unfortunately censorship is not going away. Just when we think it is defeated, even in democratic countries, it seems to rear its head in the most alarming ways.
      And I completely agree that offensiveness is so subjective- it is not a measure we should be using to ban things.
      I do get what you’re saying- but in some cases people’s “truth” is an inability to accept other people’s opinions and truths- which in itself makes it impossible for them to live and let live :/ Moral relativism can be a little flawed in that way (and others), but I do hear what you’re saying, and largely can agree with the principle (with the obvious caveats of “so long as they’re not harming themselves or others”) that people should be free to believe in whatever they want. (Although I will say that the wonderful thing about moral relativists is that they accept that not everyone agrees with moral relativism!)
      *And thank you very much for your comment!!*

      Liked by 1 person

      • LizScanlon says:

        Again, agree with what you’re saying as well in terms of moral relativism… that’s like an age old nut to crack… this gray area which allows for freedom of speech and expression, etc yet which at the same time causes limitations in between solving the problem or not solving it… It’s a bit of a Catch 22 🙂 Overall I think, as long as thing are harmless, it’s a wonderful thing, for people to have so many viewpoints and opinions… but so many aspects to consider… my! Great discussion post though! 🙂

        If you’d like to read the court transcripts, then here are the links in english… do apologize the typos and the not so very grammatical terms… it is gonzo journalism and I believe this was all pulled together in a hurry.. you should get the overall picture of things though:
        Part 1/2: http://nihilist.fm/passion-kaur-kender-part-12/
        Part 2/2: http://nihilist.fm/passion-kaur-kender-part-22/

        Liked by 1 person

  4. daleydowning says:

    I don’t approve of censorship, either. I approve of informing people – for example, you don’t necessarily want 8-year-olds to try reading “50 Shades of Gray,” or listening to music laced with swearing or drug references. But to flat out ban something often does completely backfire (people dive into it, anyway), and really all it usually does is to make people feel they’re being told what to do on something where it doesn’t really matter. Yes, we need to have a moral code in society – but when it comes to ideas, and how they’re portrayed, it should not be up to one elite group to determine what’s best for everybody else. The Puritans really failed, mostly because they were far too strict and over-regulated, and bred fear instead of peace and self-discipline (which was their original plan). And you can’t just get rid of an idea without trying to understand it – whether you agree with it or not – for example, what if we decided to cover up all mention of the Holocaust, because it was a terrible thing. As horrific as it was, we cannot ever forget the reasons that happened – covering up the Nazis’ motivations would be much, much more dangerous than studying them and sharing them with others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      That is one hundred percent true! It’s perfectly fair to inform people of the content of a book (and the example you gave was perfect- because it’s important to be responsible adults when it comes to these things) And I one hundred percent agree about banning things backfiring. If something is banned people will go out of their way to read it! That’s one hundred percent true- because what makes one group the moral arbiters for us all? Yes, I just wrote in a comment to someone else that I am not a moral relativist, so I do believe that things can be right and wrong- BUT I don’t see how one elite group, as you said, can necessarily decide what is right and wrong for us all. I completely agree with you- how would it help to hide from things that are difficult and painful? These things need to be confronted head on.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. alilovesbooks says:

    I’m with you on freedom of speech and no censorship however there are certain instances where I don’t think you should support an author. I’m thinking of criminals and those encouraging hatred and bigotry through their works. I don’t think you should ban these works as it just gives them publicity but I don’t think you should support the author by buying them and reading them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I do actually agree with you on that- because, as I said, I’m wary of where the money is going. In the same way I actively want to give money to some authors, sometimes I don’t want to give money to a certain fund or individual. Usually, I will find another way to get hold of the book without having to give money to the person. A good example of that is actually Wagner again- because his money actually went directly into funding the Nazis- so even now, I would want to know where the money goes when you buy his sheet music. So yeah, I get what you mean. Fortunately there are ways to get hold of books without actively supporting the author.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Zezee says:

    The “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” kind. <- Same here. I prefer to be open to opposing views so I can better understand the beliefs of people who don't agree with my views.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reg @ She Latitude says:

    Great post! Censorship is definitely bad, and I fully support anyone’s freedom to read whatever they like. I’m personally a bit iffy about supporting authors with bigoted views – like I wouldn’t change my ratings of their books if I’ve read them and loved them before, but maybe I wouldn’t pick up anything else by them. This is definitely a person-to-person choice, though. 🙆

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Thank you!! That’s totally fair- as you said it’s a person to person choice, and as I was saying to someone else, it’s sometimes possible to read books by an author without circulating them or giving them money (because as I said in the post I am wary of where the money goes!) But the most important thing to me is that this is a personal choice. I would never force someone else to support an author they didn’t want to support

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nicola Alter says:

    I also think books shouldn’t be banned under any circumstances, because even if there is a truly horrible/disturbing book, banning it would be kind of pointless… ban a book and it’ll just get more attention! People will find a way to read it regardless, and it just gives it that air of mystique that it might not deserve. Of course, I say that while living in a country where I’m not going to be locked up for possessing a banned book, so I’m presuming people have a certain amount of freedom to seek out banned books without any consequences.

    I don’t like the thought of criminals profiting off writing books about their crimes, so I agree with laws that allow for such profits to be seized and used to compensate victims’ families, but simply banning those books would just give them more attention than they deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Precisely- it’s been proven to be the case time and time again- just take the lady Chatterley’s liver case- it was one of the most sold books ever at one point.
      I do get what you mean there though- I’m wary of where the money is going to- but fortunately there are ways if getting hold of books without having support the author. Also, I was actually having this convo in real life yesterday and I was saying that you can celebrate the work without supporting or celebrating the person. There’s a particular author who I don’t like as an individual, but love their work- while I’d celebrate their work, I find when the author is celebrated that I can’t support it

      Like

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  10. Anne says:

    What the…I thought I commented on this one already! Wise words my furry friend! I will read anything that seems interesting to me and believe everyone should have the right to do the same. High praise for the Steve Hughes video! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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