This week, the American Library Association celebrates its annual Banned Books Week, which it calls "the only national celebration of the freedom to read."
I'm a big fan of the ALA, of libraries in general, and of a lot of the books on the ALA's list that people have attempted to remove from school and public libraries. It may shock you, however, to discover that there's one type of book "banning" that I might just, under the right circumstances, be able to get behind. More about this in a moment.
The ALA began promoting BBW in 1982 to counter a sudden increase in "challenges" to books on the shelves of schools, libraries and bookstores. (A "challenge" is what the ALA calls it when someone who thinks they know better than you what you or your kids should be reading goes to some governing body and tries to get the book taken out of circulation.)
Many "challenges" involve restricting access to books for teens and young adults because they contain depictions of things like drug use, sexuality, racism and profanity. Apparently the theory is that the best way for teens to deal with these issues is to pretend they don't exist.
For instance, one group attempted to ban Harper Lee's classic novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" on the grounds that a depiction of racial injustice in a small Southern town in the Great Depression (including the use of the dreaded "n-word") might prove "upsetting" to young people, particularly young African-American readers.
Well, that's mighty nice of them, but a well-meaning bonehead is still a bonehead. Young people bloody well ought to be upset by the idea of racial injustice, and anyone who thinks young African-Americans don't know plenty about racism, then and now, is suffering from a severe and probably incurable case of cranial ossification.
The more popular a book is, the more likely it is that someone's going to attempt to ban it. The flaccid -vampire melodrama "Twilight," for example, has attracted the attention of some would-be banners for "depictions of sexuality," even though for most of the series, the characters seem to be striving mightily not to have sex.
Likewise, Dan Brown's blockbuster "The DaVinci Code" was attacked (and outright banned in some countries) because the Catholic Church found some of its cockeyed plot premises offensive.
Neither of these books seem to have suffered at all in sales; in fact, it's entirely possible that a substantial cohort of readers picked the books up just to see what all the fuss was about, which led a writer friend of mine to plaintively inquire, "What do I have to do to get my book banned?"
Which brings us to the above-mentioned type of censorship that I might just be able to endorse.
The Defense Intelligence Agency recently informed the publisher of an upcoming nonfiction book titled "Operation Dark Heart" that the book might reveal classified information. Among other things, the DIA wants to scrub passages describing a DIA "data-mining" operation called "Able Danger."
Anthony Shaffer, the book's author and a former DIA man himself, claims that he learned in Afghanistan that the Able Danger program identified 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta as a threat months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The DIA wants this information suppressed, although, since you're reading it right this second, it seems like that particular feline has already exited that particular non-rigid fabric container.
But rather than seek a legal injunction or some sort of executive action, the DIA has made the publisher an offer: It will buy the entire first run of the book, all 10,000 copies, thus giving publisher and author what all publishers and authors most want out of life: an overnight 100 percent sell-out, not to mention the kind of buzz for the second (edited) print run that a publicist could only dream of.
So I'm calling the alphabet agencies out. CIA, DIA, NSA, NRO, DARPA: I'm writing a book right now that reveals all sorts of high-tech and sort-of-secret derring-do. You want to keep me from blowing the lid off all your tightly guarded secrets, all you have to do is promise to buy the whole first printing.
Or we could just skip the middleman altogether and you could send me a million bucks right now. Small bills, please. How about it?