high desert sketches
Read them, don’t burn or ban them
By GEORGE COVINGTON
There was no great fanfare or even much notice when a potentially devastating device was introduced into Europe more than 600 years ago. It was not the deadly crossbow, gunpowder, or even the siege cannon, but a device that would bring wars and cultural upheavals across Europe.
It was the printing press. The royalty of Europe quickly recognized the danger of the press. For the next 500 years only the crown would permit ownership of one of these devices, and everything printed on them had to be approved by the state.
Johannes Gutenberg’s most famous work, the Gutenberg Bible, was printed in the early 1450s and is considered today one of the world’s most valuable books. Forty years after the publication of the Bible, another book was published that would bring terror, torture, and death to untold innocent victims. The book was called Malleus Maleficarum in Latin, Der Hexenhammer in German, and Hammer of the Witches in English. The Hammer of Witches became the handbook of the Inquisition and led to the torture and grisly death of tens of thousands of innocent victims, mostly poor women.
The printed works of Martin Luther led to more than a hundred years of brutal battles between Catholic and Protestant armies, causing the National Printing Press Association to put out a press release saying, “Printing presses don’t kill people, book reading people kill people.”
Luckily the naysayers and doom mongers were unable to stop the printing press, thus the modern world got to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series; all of which have been banned at one time, even the Bible’s Song of Solomon.
In 1821, Heinrich Heine, a German playwright wrote, “Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.” His words became prophecy a hundred years later when the Nazi regime of Germany burned tens of thousands of books in Berlin’s Bebelplatz (Babylon Plaza). As history records, the Nazis went on to fulfill the rest of his words. The modern irony is that most people who remember the quote assumed he was writing about either the Bible or a political book when in fact he was speaking against censorship of the Koran, Islam’s Holy Book.
September 26 – October 1 marks the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. The ALA has a long history of fighting for the First Amendment on many levels. A few years ago Congress gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation authority to search library information for details of their patrons’ reading habits. The law threatened librarians with jail if they mentioned the FBI’s visit to anyone including their closest friends and family. In the true spirit of the First Amendment some librarians posted signs stating, “The FBI wasn’t here today.” Forget the image of the meek and mild librarian and consider them the defender and protector of Free Speech.
The Alpine Public Library is hosting an unusual display to satirize the concept of banned books. Led by the beautiful and vivacious Mary Beth Garrett, the children’s librarian invites people to enter into the spirit of banned books week.
Celebrate your freedom to read and the Alpine library’s banned books displays and festivities during the month of September. Choose a “disguise” from the front desk and have your mug shot taken while reading a banned book. Free a book from “jail” and take home a “banned” bookmark and a coupon to Re-Reads Book Store. Free people read freely!
George A. Covington has worked in the fields of law, education, journalism and disability rights. He considers himself retired from every one of them with the possible exception of journalism. He is a graduate of the University of Texas schools of journalism and law. He moved to West Texas – Alpine – in 1997 after a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. where he once served on the staff of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat) and shortly thereafter served as Special Assistant to the Vice President of the United States (Republican) 1989-93.
Story filed under: Big Bend Blog