What Does Freedom to Read Mean to You?

Freedom to Read Week was February 26th to March 4th and I missed it. Sorry about that. The country’s festivals and awarenesses are still new to me. I only moved back to Canada a year ago. I’ll do better next year. I promise.

Just because the awareness week is over doesn’t mean we should stop talking about this important issue, though. There are a lot of places in the world where people can’t read what they want. Lucky for us Canada isn’t one of them. Or so I thought.

“Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read.”

– From the Freedom to Read website (http://www.freedomtoread.ca)

Take a look at this list of challenged works to see a selection of books and magazines that are currently being challenged in Canada.

Freedom to Read Week is a project organized by The Book and Periodical Council (www.thebpc.ca). The organisation wants to keep the conversation going and has posed this question on Twitter: “What does freedom to read mean to you?”

Here are a few responses.

“Freedom is seeking out books that have been banned and supporting that writer.” – @AyeregoBooks

“Freedom to choose what I want to read without others having a say in it.” – @eatupmyfreetime

“To see yourself and experiences reflected in writing; you learn you aren’t alone.” – @pridelibrary

“Being a kid and having books at home to read over summer break.” – @StartReadingMPS

“To be able to access an open and unrestricted internet.” – @SarahFelkar

“We live in a busy world. Freedom to read means putting other things aside to make time to read.” – @ShelaghPeirce (ok, yah, that’s me.)

“To be able to choose for oneself what to read or not read.” – @lmnicholson68

The responses are good and varied. I like that.

Freedom to read what you want, when you want. I’m going to take that one step further. Freedom to read what you want, when you want, without being judged.

It’s the last part of that statement that makes the issue more complicated because I’m guilty of it as well. I see someone reading a sensationalist, blatantly biased tabloid and think: “Ugh! Why are they wasting their time? That’s not news. There are so many better ways to get information. What type of person reads that trash?” I don’t even know the person and I’m already trying to imagine their lifestyle. Then I stop and get mad at myself for being judgmental. Maybe it isn’t even their paper. Maybe it was on the seat of the bus when they got on.

I have a friend who refuses to read children’s literature because she thinks it’s a waste of time. “There are too many good adult books out there to read and too little time,” she argues. “And it’s not mentally challenging enough.” My response is: “If you read any children’s books you would soon learn that that’s not true.”

So, here’s an idea. Why don’t we stop being judgmental and start reading things that we wouldn’t normally read?

I genuinely believe the world would be a better place if everyone read everything available to them. From the trashiest romance novel, to a much-loved children’s picture book, to a sensationalist, biased tabloid, to an alt-right conspiracy theory website, to a wordy broadsheet newspaper, to poetry, to the classics… to anything that throws into question your beliefs, values and views.

Read it all!

Enjoy it!

Relish it!

Some of it you will like better than others but the more information and viewpoints we cram into our heads then, maybe, just maybe, the better we’ll begin to understand each other.

So, freedom to read also means freedom to share information and viewpoints. It’s called free speech. And it’s up to us to be the willing participants.