It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Banned Books Week starts next week, which is an absolute smorgasbord of wonderful opportunities to speak out, read, and support literature.
It is a particularly succinct year to celebrate banned books week, because in the country I proudly chose to call my home, there is an ongoing assault on libraries going on in the city of Toronto, spearheaded by politicians who value fiscal theatre over the vital role libraries play in the lives of Toronto residents and continuing a proud literary legacy. But the Torontonians, bless them, are not standing for it, and the response to this cynical travesty has been magnificent. Public figures and private citizens alike are coming forth with support for the wonderful world of libraries and all they provide. Today, I learned of one particular way of responding to this which left me in tears: The Why My Library Matters to Me contest, which is sponsored by the Toronto Library Workers Union. Today, one of the contest winners had their essay printed in the Globe and Mail, written by one Fan Li. Here are a few favourite quotes from this amazing essay, but you should really read the whole thing:
During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government banned books, and the mob burned them. High-school students were sent to rural labour camps. The “revolutionaries,” who locked down universities, took pride in not knowing literature and so persecuted those who did.
In one of the camps, where my father and his classmates worked 12-hour days, someone had smuggled in a poetry anthology. Nobody spoke of it, but at night, in the privacy of their beds, these 18-year-old kids lit candles to copy this book. Not all of them loved poetry, but they all pored over it and took their turns. From one pair of hands to the next, the book circulated through the camp and on to the next one. Where it passed, manuscripts were left behind, and those, in turn, were copied, then passed on.
I made friends there, learned English there, found my favourite authors there and applied for my first job from there. It offered more than just books. It offered a refuge amidst life’s urgencies, where thoughts can breathe. It offered a community that was united by an unspoken passion. It offered a chance to explore the world despite age, time or material means. And it offered a freedom I did not realize I took for granted then.
Bravo, Fan Li.
There will be more on Banned Books Week later on, but I could think of no better way to kick off my series about it than this essay.