A few months ago, I read a very detailed review of North Korea’s tablet. I know that’s an unusual beginning to a post on a book blog, but stick with me. The review listed the books that the few citizens who could afford a tablet were allowed to read. Most of them were Party philosophy and politics, but a few were pieces of Western literature that did not show the West in the best light and were therefore safe. I found it interesting but not earth-shattering. After all, they were writing about North Korea.
Last week, the news about Guantánamo Prison’s list of prohibited books broke. The list is bafflingly random. I can sort of see why a prison might not want Alan Dershowitz’s Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking our Declaration of Independence or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because, like the books permitted in North Korea, they might “get aide and comfort to the enemy” or some rot like that. Here’s a partial list The Guardian was able to put together.
Though I would dearly love to rant about it, this post is really about the curious coincidence that two supposedly opposing forces are banning books for roughly the same reason. (I have no idea why the fairy tales on the Guantánamo list are there.) It also shows me that, even in this digital age, books can still frighten the people in charge. Perhaps its because reading is a solitary occupation, where you can be alone with ideas. Readers can find hope and meaning and perspective in books. A good story can transport you miles and years away from where you really are.
And that is a marvelous thing. No one should get between a reader and a book because of the ideas that reader might think. Hell, no one should get between a reader and a book because it’s wrong to ban ideas.