More books, more free


Baroja argued that Carlism is cured by reading and nationalism is cured by travel, but how to cure the disdain for what science tells us about climate or the emerging viruses of not a few illiterate politicians, who at this rate will eventually cancel works such as The Origin of Darwin’s Species

The past few days strolling along the Alfonso X boulevard, taken over by the Murcia Book Fair, was a very satisfying experience shared by tens of thousands of people. That same feeling will certainly be repeated on the 20th when the Cartagena Fair opens, a model city in promoting reading thanks to the Mandarache Awards and the activities surrounding the Cartagena Piensa cycle, which produces outstanding essayists and thinkers. The most stimulating part of the cultural event in Murcia was watching long lines of young people come to the fair to exchange words with their favorite author and receive a signed copy. One of the busiest places was the LA VERDAD booth, where the organizers of the fair had many of these signatures. Inside, there were newspaper panels with the phrase ‘More books, more free’, an idea with authentic historical roots that makes it quite right. The answer, of course, is in the books.

In “The Invention of Human Rights,” American historian Lynn Hunt questions how some 18th-century men who lived in societies based on slavery, subjugation, and subordination could ever consider others who were not considered equals. Personalities like Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, and La Fayette, an aristocrat, spoke as they did about the inalienable equal rights of people because of the changes that were beginning to take place in social psychology. The emergence of epistolary novels played a decisive role in this transformation, which managed to give the readers a sense of empathy for the characters beyond the barriers of class, gender and nationality. Rousseau himself, with his novel ‘Julia’, of which hundreds of editions were made, contributed to the emergence of this type of literature that swept the world, coinciding chronologically with the birth of human rights.

That books set us free was known to all the autocrats who over the centuries imposed totalitarian regimes. Therefore, they were banned or burned. Some, like Pol Pot, leader of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, not only set fire to libraries, but even banned the use of glasses and considered the mere fact of being able to read a capital crime. Journalist Eric Berkowitz, in his recent book Dangerous Ideas, takes an interesting tour of censorship from the ancient world to the present day and shows the pervasive tension between the desire to express ourselves freely and that of others who want to contain it.

However, book censorship is not an exclusive phenomenon for autocracies. It also extends to countries with historically solid democracies, but which are no less at risk in these times of populism and post-truth. One example is the United States, where a report by PEN America, an organization that has championed free speech for a hundred years, reveals the staggering number of books banned from schools across the country in the 2021-2022 academic year. No fewer than 1,648 titles from 1,261 writers, 290 illustrators and 18 translators have become unavailable or restricted, impacting the literary, academic and creative work of 1,553 people. Some of them are famous authors like Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. According to PEN America, the veto of the vast majority of these books is not the product of spontaneous actions by parents concerned about their children’s reading, but of the pressure exerted by a growing number of organizations, about fifty, that are censoring certain books and ideas in schools a fundamental part of their existence. As a result, a rampant number of schools and students are losing access to literature in the US, either through decisions by local officials or changes in the law. 41% of censored books are explicitly about LGBTQ+ topics. Another 40% (659 titles) are texts with characters who are not white as protagonists or secondary characters. 10% of canceled books are about rights and activism, while another 9% are biographies and autobiographies.

This phenomenon, part of the culture of cancellation promoted by groups at both ends of the ideological spectrum, is in this case led by ultra-conservative organizations (the most active is paradoxically called ‘Mamás por la libertad’). Fortunately, it has not reached Spain, where political formations with a similar ideology have focused their initiatives on pre-checking extracurricular activities through formulas such as the ‘parental pin’, which have come to practically nothing because it lacks legal support. But where they can, some politicians restrict the encouragement of reading and critical thinking. Here, right at the height of the “fake news,” the Minister of Education expelled by Vox dropped the continuity of an educational program that encouraged the reading and development of informational content among schoolchildren. This is the case with My Digital Newspaper, which has been promoting this newspaper for more than a decade among various collaborating institutions and companies and with the participation of hundreds of student groups supervised by teachers from all over the region in each edition. It is argued that the ministry spent a lot of time reading and evaluating the students’ work.

The decision to read is an “act of imperishable freedom,” says writer Irene Vallejo, author of the fascinating work ‘Infinity in a Reed’, the most beautiful declaration of love for books. «For me, reading has always meant pleasure. And pleasure is not imposed,” says the Aragonese philologist, who emphasizes that books are now available to everyone. The problem arises when those who rule us have few readings above and despise what they ignore. Baroja claimed that Carlism is cured by reading and nationalism by travel, but how the disregard for what science tells us about climate or the emerging viruses of not a few illiterate politicians who at this rate end up working as ‘The Origin of the Species from Darwin. They still don’t know, it seems, that it was science, embodied in a series of monumental books, that brought us out of the darkness, set us free from deception and set us free and responsible for our actions. It’s all in the books.

Source: La Verdad


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