🌟 STARRED REVIEW
On Censorship: A Public Librarian Examines Cancel Culture in the US
Fulcrum Publishing, 144 pages, (paperback) $16.95, 9781682753477 (Reviewed: September 2023)
In On Censorship, a seasoned librarian offers sane, sensible advice on how to respond to the rising tide of book challenges in ways that encourage healthy discussion and intellectual growth.
Author James LaRue, former director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation, begins by revisiting the mission of public libraries to represent communities, not agendas, arguing that “[s]hutting down … directions of exploration shuts down human potential.” He positions the surge of book challenges in recent years amid a context of changing public perceptions toward public institutions, noting a replacement of the idea of “citizenship” with the idea of “consumption.”
The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights – developed in 1939, when a different tide of fascism was shaking the world – clearly calls for representing a variety of points of view. In response to those wishing to purge titles to protect children, LaRue observes that ignorance and bigotry serve predators; intellectual freedom serves social justice.
The second portion of the extended essay explores cancel culture’s roots, surveying with precision and insight cultural movements that have unfolded over decades. LaRue maintains a balanced, humane tone free of cant or catchphrase though full of gentle wit, as when he notes the hypocrisy of self-proclaimed free speech “absolutists” who “complain about cancel culture, then pass laws banning the discussion of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans or stories about men who marry men.”
A concluding section offers a shortlist of to-dos for the concerned citizen: talk to your children, support balanced journalism, learn civic cooperation, and read more, not less.
Throughout, the essay displays the elegance of clear reason, including its compelling call to action. “To fight censorship is to fight fear and ignorance,” LaRue concludes. “We learn by thinking, not by denying thought.”
Insightful, lucid, and concise in its prose yet expansive in its philosophy, LaRue’s thoughtful discussion advocates ways to protect the cornerstones of a healthy democracy while indulging the deeply human pleasures of curiosity and critical thinking. His book is highly recommended.