NPR did a story yesterday, on a book called The Use and Abuse of Literature, that reminded me of Kathy's post. The author of the book says that disagreements over the "proper" use of the English language have been around for centuries. So to have efforts to ban books that weren't deemed appropriate — heck, even Shakespeare was challenged, once upon a time.
The author makes the point that if we are still bickering over language usage, still dealing with challenges to books, it's actually a good sign, because it means that people are reading.
It may look as though reading is declining in importance. After all, yesterday's readers are today's video game players or text message obsessives. But the fact that these controversies still crop up — for example, over a new version of Mark Twain's Huck Finn being released with every instance of the n-word changed to "slave" — is, Garber believes, proof of literature's power. Books are labeled as dangerous "precisely because [they] can enrich the mind, challenge, disturb, and change one's thinking," she writes. So let the naysayers bemoan the shifting tides. Literature has been through much, much worse.
Obviously, there are things that aren't such good signs, such as the apparent lack of editors lately and the dwindling importance of teaching handwriting in schools. But if we can still have a healthy debate with someone over whether the singular "they" is correct, or if there are still parents rioting over whether Huckleberry Finn is appropriate for their 14-year-olds, I'd have to agree with Marjorie Garber. The point isn't who wins these little battles, it's that they are still being fought in the first place.