“Censorship leaves us in the dark.”
These words are central to a mural that dominates a wall in the courtyard of our Coral Gables bookshop. Surrounding this truth are painted titles of books that have been challenged in some fashion over the years.
I distinctly remember being met with wonderment by our customers, who were incredulous that some of the most iconic books of the past 100 years were subject to removal from libraries and schools. In retrospect, even though I’ve lived through tumultuous times as a bookseller on the front lines advocating for these rights I’ve always held so close — whether keeping copies of “The Satanic Verses” in our front windows or monographs of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe in our photography section or fighting as a member of the American Booksellers Association against the hazards posed by the Patriot Act — I was naïve. I thought the worst was behind us.
The truth is we’ve never been through a period as perilous as right now. We in Florida are Ground Zero in this new, cynical attempt to gain and maintain political power by weaponizing books. Our governor, Legislature, school boards, mayors and city councils are enacting laws and edicts meant to distort the histories and silence the voices of so many.
Authors are openly being singled out and vilified. Their books are being removed from libraries and curricula. They face intimidation, and these laws are having a chilling effect on teachers and librarians.
Beginning Oct. 1, we celebrate Banned Books Week, a national effort to galvanize communities across the United States through activities and events at independent bookstores like ours and libraries everywhere. At Books & Books, we’ve curated a week’s worth of events that help to “unban” the books, calling upon partnerships we have relied on for more than 40 years.
For any of you who have felt a sense of helplessness in the face of these assaults on our right to read and want to find a way to lend your voice in opposition, we invite you to join us by picking at least one event (if not all) to participate in this week and make your voices heard.
We kick off on Sunday with a FREADOM walk from the Coral Gables Congregational Church to Books & Books, where you can meet authors, neighbors and members of the FREADOM Coalition — a coming together of national and local organizations — in our courtyard. Monday night’s free Villain Theater Comedy Show will celebrate free speech. Tuesday’s Trivia & Bingo Night is so rebellious it’s practically banned; Wednesday’s panel discussion, organized with PEN America and featuring Brad Meltzer and Camryn Garrett, focuses on children’s and young adult book banning; and the weekend features a Moleskine activation that is all about celebrating words. The week will end with a visit from the New Republic’s Bookmobile with free book distribution for educators and librarians. Find the full schedule at www.booksandbooks.com or follow us on social media for daily updates.
With so many united voices courageously raised, I’m as confident as ever that the right to read will reassert itself, and we will never, ever allow anyone to be left in the darkness brought on by the menace of censorship.
Mitchell Kaplan, of Books & Books, is the owner of independent bookstores in South Florida.