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Slash and Burn

Among the more intriguing details to emerge about Republican veep nominee Sarah Palin is her purported efforts to ban books in her home town of Wasilla, Alaska. According to Time magazine:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

As my fellow Powell's blogger Brockman has already noted, there's something almost touchingly disingenuous about asking a librarian to help you ban books — a bit like asking a fireman to throw a lit match into a dry forest. And speaking of bonfires, the specter of Fahrenheit 451 naturally hovers over any attempt to slash and burn library collections. But even a First Amendment freak like me takes some perverse encouragement from efforts like Palin's. The way I look at it, any attempt to ban books is implicitly a recognition that books have power.The way I look at it, any attempt to ban books is implicitly a recognition that books have power.

As both a novelist and a book reviewer, I've often had reason to doubt that proposition. So, in a strange way, I'm grateful to the Sarah Palins of the world for proving that words are still dangerous, that books can still get under people's skin. Censorship is the most sincere possible compliment that can be paid to art.

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Louis Bayard is the author of the national bestseller The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable book. A staff writer for, Bayard has written articles and reviews for the New York Times, the Washington Post,, and Preservation, among others. Bayard lives in Washington, D.C.

Books mentioned in this post

Louis Bayard is the author of The Black Tower

2 Responses to "Slash and Burn"

    Tavis September 4th, 2008 at 11:37 am

    "Censorship is the most sincere possible compliment that can be paid to art."


    lynnr September 4th, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Double Bravo! Excellent post.

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