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Book banning

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NEWSPAPER editorials, television programs, and public-service announcements are stressing the importance of being able to read in today's information-based world. The ability to read is essential for full involvement in society. Reading opens doors, providing countless benefits to readers, allowing them to participate in ``the good life'' to a more satisfying degree. Yet the ability to read is of limited value without free access to books.

The school board of Graves County, Ky., has decided to restrict access to one of the books in its high school language arts program. Without even reading the book, board members banned Nobel laureate William Faulkner's ``As I Lay Dying'' from the school curriculum.

Sadly, such an action is not very newsworthy anymore. The wire service story published in a Houston newspaper totaled barely five column inches. Book banning has become so commonplace that even bibliophiles are all but inured to it. That is even more frightening than the bans themselves, which are, after all, only about words -- the most fleeting and least permanent of human vanities.

During this past summer, a stage version of George Orwell's novel ``Animal Farm'' was banned from production at Baltimore's Theatre of Nations festival at the insistence of the Soviet Union. The play, that nation's representatives protested, offended their sensibilities.

Orwell wrote ``Animal Farm'' after fighting on the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, which began 50 years ago. With the trained journalist's keen eye for detail, Orwell observed the infighting, especially bitter between the Stalinist and Trotskyite Communists, among the various factions defending the Republican government.

Those bitter intramural struggles were as responsible for the fall of the republic as were General Francisco Franco's nationalist forces. As Orwell fully realized, the underlying cause was simply words. Various Republican factions just wouldn't believe in quite the same words or accept those who disagreed with their words.

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