Given that we're all “book people,” I assume that most of us got several copies of the list of books supposedly banned by Sarah Palin that circulated on the Internet last week. At last count, I received a dozen e-mails with the list attached, some of them from friends wanting to share the pain, and some suggesting I run the list in PW. I considered it, of course, until the list was declared a hoax—apparently, it names titles that have been banned at one time or another in American history and, most tellingly, a few books that hadn't even been published when Palin was mayor.

What's the truth of Sarah and the librarian? According to several reports, Palin had asked at least one librarian what the town's “policy” was on book banning, which is a perfectly acceptable question for a new mayor to ask, though one that could have had a different agenda behind it than if, say, I had asked it. The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, reportedly allowed as how she didn't believe in book banning . She was later fired, but after a public outcry, the popular librarian was reinstated. That said, there is no real evidence that Palin tried to remove books from the library. Choosing titles at random from the bogus list, which included Brave New World, Catch-22 and the Harry Potter books, the only one I found not to be at the Wasilla public library was Heather Has Two Mommies, a book about lesbian parenting (duh) that no doubt is absent from many a smalltown stack. So while Palin stands for many things about which my feelings range from unease to stout disapproval, one thing I cannot accuse her of is being a book banner. Case closed.

But I couldn't help being struck by something: of all the kinds of phony lists that a Palin basher might concoct—number of abortion clinics shuttered, say, or the contents of her personal arsenal—the one that won a hoaxter's heart was a roster of books banned. Many of the book people I know would be just as appalled at assaults on women's reproductive rights or limp regulation of guns, yet there were no smear campaigns that I know of on these hot topics. And why is that?

Maybe, in a way, focussing on book banning is easy. While there is indeed a wide range of popular opinion about abortion and gun rights, there's considerably less dispute about censorship. Like child abuse, few are for it. And surely part of the bogus e-mail campaign's power was that it confirmed for us something we already believed: that Palin is an extremist in social matters.

But I also think that the prevalence and vehemence of the banned-books e-mail—it was picked up by the mainstream press and eventually debunked by USA Today, among others—suggests something else, something I find in a roundabout, slightly twisted way, pretty positive. To wit: books matter. They matter in the national conversation. They matter enough for us to solicit and debate our potential leaders' attitudes toward them.

In other words, they are lifeblood even for those for whom they're not livelihood.

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