Hitler burned books, and we here in America were outraged. Such behavior flew in the face of the spirit of freedom which we have always claimed to hold dear. “Thank God such things can't happen here in America,” we said.

But guess what? It HAS happened here – and would no doubt more often, if certain people were to have their way. They claim their motives are different, of course – but what else would you expect from folks who have dedicated their lives to telling us what we can or cannot read, as opposed to suggesting what we should or should not read. 

They’ve somehow become convinced that they are the only ones who have been blessed from on high with sufficient enlightenment to know the difference between good and bad, right and wrong, valuable and worthless. And they honestly believe they’re correct in shoving that so-called enlightenment down the collective throats of the rest of us less fortunate, less enlightened nabbobs.

They create movements to get The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn removed from our schools and public libraries, on the basis that a certain admittedly  unacceptable word is used throughout the book. Their claim is that the use of the word makes the novel racist, ignoring the fact that the novel actually provides one of the greatest arguments against racism in American literature.

They make up lists of what books are good and wholesome and what books are evil, based on narrow-minded preconconceived notions and inaccurate word of mouth –  and more often than not without ever actually having read the books they are protesting. Once upon a time they would distribute those lists door-to-door in the hopes of converting a few more concerned parents to their cause.Nowadays it’s easier to simply post their misinformation on the Internet, trusting in the public’s willingness to accept such things at face value. (“Well, if it’s on the Internet it MUST be true!” Ha!! Wanna bet?) 

Some of these groups are a little easier to please than others. If they can’t persuade the libraries to get rid of the offending titles, perhaps they can convince the publishing houses to distribute new, “cleaner” versions. It’s not hard. We’ll just edit out all the offending passage, and then we can read what’s left. 

Except there won’t be much left. Some of the greatest works of literature will become so condensed that even Reader’s Digest wouldn’t touch them. For that matter, we’d be losing a pretty good chunk of the Bible if we were to take out the sex and violence. How much is lost in the telling of the acsension of Solomon to the throne of Israel make without first reading of the story of David and Bathsheba? Think about it.

Even the comics have not been immune. Some years back a group called the Concerned Parents Monitoring Comics decreed that modern comic strips are not the bastion of safe family entertainment that they once were. Hagar The Horrible was said to promote poor manners, and presents a bad role model for the kiddies. Beatle Bailey was anti-military propaganda (unlike, I suppose, that great bastion of America’s military superiority, Gomer Pyle).And - get this! – the group called Dennis The Menace “an obvious attempt to subvert authority figures.”

Of course, the group didn’t think ALL comics are bad for us. Their list of “positive” strips included Marvin and Garfield. But – myohmy! Doesn’t Marvin teach children how to manipulate their parents? Isn’t Garfield promoting slovenliness, apathy, rudeness, and overeating? Is the big orange cat really such a great role model?

(All togther now, in a whiny voice: “But he’s such a cu-u-u-u-ute kitty cat!”)

Frankly, such rantings always leave me a little disgusted. What gives somebody else the right to tell me that I can’t read what I want to read? Granted, there are a lot of books out there I wouldn’t be caught dead reading – but that’s because they don’t appeal to me as a reader, not because somebody told me it’s wrong to read them. If they do appeal to some other reader, fine. Live and let live. The fact that a friend of mine likes William Faulkner and I don’t has no bearing on either our friendship or our opinion’s of the other person’s taste. Or it shouldn’t, at any rate.

What it boils down to is this: everyone has his or her own distinct taste, in literature as in all other things, and nobody has the right to forcefully inflict his own tastes upon soemone else. You don’t like the fact that Huckleberry Finn reflects the attitudes of the time in which it was written? Fine. You refuse to read H.G. Wells because he was a Socialist? Dandy. You turn your back on Batman comics because you think they’re too violent? Be my guest. That’s your choice, your decision, and I respect you for it.

But do NOT tell me I can’t read Twain, Wells or Batman. I happen to like them, and I don’t care what anyone thinks of me because of it. And don’t tell me I need to repent just because my home library happens to include a copy of Of Mice And Men, because it just ain’t so.

(Column copyright © 2012, by John A. Small)