If they don't understand you, sometimes they ban you.
As students, professors and librarians gathered in Hultquist Library at JCC on Wednesday to celebrate its fourth annual "banned books reading session," a few stories were passed around between people before the event began.
On Aug. 24 in Havana, Cuba, the Cuban secret police pursued and arrested librarians who had attended a technology workshop at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
Students, professors and librarians gather in Hultquist Library at JCC to celebrate its fourth annual banned books reading session.
P-J photos by Remington Whitcomb
The arrests occurred in the streets adjacent to the Interests Section when the librarians, about 20 in number, were returning to their homes.
Out of the 20 librarians who were pursued, Juan Antonio, Madrazo Luna, Julio Rojas Portal and Mario Echevarra Driggs were successfully arrested.
The crime that these four librarians committed which led to their arrests was this: they had in their possession an Amazon Kindle.
On July 25, in Portland, Ore., an FBI task force carrying assault rifles, smoke grenades and stun guns entered a house under the protection of probable cause and detained two young adults named Leah-Lynn Plante and Matt Duran. The reason the FBI forcefully entered their house: the FBI was looking for "anarchist literature."
Plante and Duran have since been subpoenaed and ordered before a grand jury hearing, which is a private hearing used to determine if there is sufficient evidence to indict someone with a federal crime. During the proceedings of a grand jury, the defendant is not allowed an attorney to represent her or him.
These two snippets also describe many people who are not anarchists fairly well.
One might go on to ask, "what exactly is anarchist literature anyway? Is it Karl Marx? Is it Walt Whitman? Is it Jack London? Is it Kurt Vonnegut?"
The purpose behind telling these two stories is to show that, despite living in the year 2012 of the era vulgaris, people are still being imprisoned and even threatened with violence for owning and reading certain things.
Americans pride themselves as living in a world where information is readily available and easily accessible, and scoff at silly incidents such as a religious institutions condemning "Harry Potter" because it might promote witchcraft, or "The Da Vinci Code" because it might be blasphemous; yet there are still organizations systematically condemning certain lines of thought and reason, and following through with violence upon those who learn these aforementioned lines of reason anyway.
"I think we're very fortunate to live in the country we do," said Cynthia Horton-McKane, librarian at Hultquist Library. "I've learned that owning a copy of the Autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King will get you arrested in Cuba. We're fighting about Harry Potter here and they're fighting about really deep things elsewhere. I'm not trying to denigrate any of the works we will be reading here today, but we should be thankful that, for the most part, we have the right to read what we choose out in the open."
Vincent Gerace and Isaac McQuistion open the event with a video where the fictional sleuth "McSpacey" investigates the sub-culture of Americans who read banned books. McSpacey finds out that in most instances, teachers, librarians and parents were the ones who initially encouraged the members of this sub-culture to read these "illegal" books. This video can be found on JCC's website, www.sunyjcc.edu.
Following the movie, the group of professors and students who gathered for the event read a passage from some of their favorite banned books. Specifically, some of the books which had passages read from them were: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Sallinger, Slaughterhouse Five; or, The Children's Crusade, by Kurt Vonnegut and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
The event concluded with the emphasis that every individual person likely knows what information they would like to know and what information they would like to omit from their mind better than anyone else. For this reason, banned books often gain a following they might not have had simply because they have been banned.
"I have never been one to say what my sons or anyone else should or should not read," said Carrie Wolfgang, proprietor of Novel Destination. "Asking if this is a good read, or if this isn't a good read - I've learned from everything that anyone has ever told me about books. Yet, what you become offended by is not what I become offended by, and censorship, in my opinion, means that whoever the censor is knows unequivocally that this item is offensive. And I don't see how someone can do that for everyone. Your experiences and my experiences and everyone who is out there - their experiences are all different. I would hope that when we put something provocative out to read, then we're going to talk about it. Not just that we put it out there and say, 'read this and write an essay on it and I will grade your essay.' I would hope we talk about it as a group. That is why I oppose censorship (in almost every situation.) When you censor something or ban it, people find a black market for it, then they question what made it so controversial. I think that, for that reason, bans will always fail their purpose."