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Originally published Sunday, September 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist

Reading is fundamental, Gov. Palin

Of course, we all have questions for Sarah Palin: Does she actually think living across the Bering Strait from Russia constitutes foreign...

Syndicated Columnist

Of course, we all have questions for Sarah Palin:

Does she actually think living across the Bering Strait from Russia constitutes foreign policy expertise? Does she really take the parable of Adam and Eve as literal truth? How, exactly, does one field dress a moose? And why would one want to?

My first question, though, would not be one of those. I'd simply ask which books she wants to ban — and why.

Yes, there's a list of titles floating around the Internet right now, but it's a fake. It is, however, established fact that our would-be vice president has in the past tried to pull books off library shelves.

The New York Times reports that as a member of the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin complained to colleagues about a book called "Daddy's Roommate," described in promotional material as being "for and about the children of lesbian and gay parents."

Laura Chase, who ran Palin's campaign for mayor, explained that the book was harmless and suggested Palin read it.

Chase told The New York Times that Palin replied she "didn't need to read that stuff. It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it."

Later, as mayor, Palin reportedly asked the town's librarian three times whether she would agree to remove controversial books from the shelves. Three times, the librarian refused. Palin fired her, but eventually bowed to public pressure and gave the woman her job back.

"I'm still proud of Sarah," said Chase, "but she scares the bejeebers out of me."

And in that context, it seems apropos that next week is Banned Books Week. As you doubtless know, that's the week set aside each year by the American Library Association to bring attention to attempts by some of us to regulate what others of us may read.

The ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom reports that it has seen 9,700 "challenges" — a challenge is defined as a formal written request to remove a book from a library because the content offends or is deemed inappropriate — since 1990. Chillingly, the office suggests that's probably an undercount. It estimates that for every challenge reported, four or five are not.

So Palin has company, to say the least.

Count among that number the woman from a Cuban exile group who bragged to a Miami Herald reporter how in 2006 she checked out and kept an elementary-school library book she felt painted too rosy a picture of life on that communist island. Like Palin, she thought she had good reason. Would-be book banners always do.

I'm reminded of how someone challenged me the other day on my contention that anti-intellectualism has overtaken this land. I mentioned by way of example Palin's Bible literalism, but really, there's so much more.

There's the "Jay Walking" segment on Leno. There's this notion that "elite" is a four-letter word. There's the White House's censorship and politicization of science. There's the recent survey that found that more people can name all five Simpsons than all five freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment.

And there's this: as many as 50,000 incidents since 1990 in which a book was forced to justify its existence. We're talking books like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," books like "The Color Purple," books like "Harry Potter" and, yes, books like "Daddy's Roommate," books that offended because they expressed ideas that made someone uncomfortable. As if any other kind of idea was worth expressing.

We are becoming the stupid giant of planet Earth: richer than Midas, mightier than Thor, dumber than rocks. Which makes us a danger to the planet — and to ourselves. This country cannot continue to prosper and to embrace stupidity. The two are fundamentally incompatible.

So do us all a favor: Annoy Sarah Palin. For goodness' sake, read.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: lpitts@miamiherald.com

2008, The Miami Herald

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