Book banning is on the wane in Western liberal societies, but the number of challenges against books has never been higher, according to a Toronto writer whohas written a book aboutcensorship.
The American Library Association and Canada's Freedom to Read, both organizations that monitor challengesagainst books, are noting an increase, said Pearce Carefoote, author of Forbidden Fruit: Banned, Censored and Challenged Books from Dante to Harry Potter.
"It's far easier for an authority to just shut down discussion than to enter into an argument," he told CBC Radio's Q cultural affairs program.
"When you think about the history of education, going back to Socrates, it's all been about asking questions, arguing over ideas, raising objections and then coming to some kind of resolution. That takes time, effort and hard work. It's much easier to say 'I don't like this book.'"
Many of the challenges to books are faced by library associations and school boards, organizations more easily swayed by a small parent group or lobbyist, he said.
Last week, the Halton Catholic School Board pulled Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass from library shelves and launched a review of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy because of a complaint.
Two other Catholic school boards also are studying the books. A decision on what to do about them should be reached in a month at the Halton board.
People who challenge books often feel disenfranchised by society, Carefoote said.
Pullman's books use metaphors and language — for example the term magisterium for a religious authority — that are objectionable to some people, he said.
"Objections have been raised that the metaphors used in this book, which is aimed at young adults, seem to be deriding Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular."
Books such as Margaret Laurence's The Diviners, Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women and, more recently, the Harry Potter books have all faced challenges in Canada, usually through school boards.
But such books are seldom banned, said Carefoote, who curated an exhibit of banned, censored and challenged books at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto.
"The question becomes, do I as a parent have a right to say that not only will my child not read that book, but your child won't read that book," said Carefoote, who mounts a spirited defence of allowing even books promotingobjectionable ideas, such as Mein Kampf, to be available.
'The thing they should do if they don't want people to read the book is to say nothing about it.' — Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass
"The problem is, even a bad idea needs to be confronted in order for it to be dismissed and never gained a foothold," he said.
Ultimately, attempts at censorship tend to backfire, in part because they create an appetite for the books, according to Pullman, who spoke this weekend to CBC Radio show Writers & Co.
"The thing they should do if they don't want people to read the book is to say nothing about it," Pullman said.
"If you want people to read a book, then make a fuss about it, make it controversial. Tell your children they are not to read this book under any circumstances. What is more likely to make them go to the shelf and take it down and read it from there?"