No books were banned from my childhood home, that I recall. I did sneak a book about the infamous Bonnie and Clyde to my bedroom, but only because my mother wouldn’t let me see the movie. No, we were a very bookish household and my mother was a classic theater geek, so all literary pursuits were encouraged.

I always knew some books faced the ban. I could see why Lady Chatterley’s Lover might have raised eyebrows in its time but banning Huck Finn or To Kill A Mockingbird perplexed me. (As a child, I wasn’t much aware of race issues, growing up in my lily-white Midwestern town.) I didn’t even notice when Banned Books Week was established in 1982, set aside to raise awareness of the growing challenges to books. It followed the landmark Island Trees School District v. Pico Supreme Court ruling that school officials couldn’t ban books in libraries simply on content.

By the 90s, I had children of my own to introduce to beloved classics and to discover new ones (Hello, Harry Potter). I didn’t do everything right as a parent, but I did manage to raise two voracious readers.

People want to read. Since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1440, books have made their way to those people. In 2020, I don’t worry about the demise of books. Print or digital, book sales are steady worldwide. People still want to read, but I don’t think they know how tenuous our freedom to read is.

We still need to have Banned Books Week every year because the attempt on censorship continues. Librarians, those quiet (Shhhh!) warriors of ideas, indefatigable defenders of our freedom to read, are on the frontlines for us. Too many (in my opinion) feel pressured to self-censor – meaning, they just don’t put a title on the shelves rather than find themselves having to defend a book that falls outside of some “norm.” Just buy a book instead, you say. Let’s check our privilege, I say.

Why do books get challenged in the first place? Well, sex – a lot of the time. And things related to sex. Quite often it’s the “coming of age” stories that find themselves under the “banned” banner. (Judy Blume fans know what I’m talking about.) Imagine thinking that if we don’t read about “coming of age” it will never happen. If only.

Vulgarity creeps into the banning formula regularly. I’m in the Word Business and I can’t imagine the poor sod who has to keep track of all the newest curse words in case they make their way into a book. Exhausting.

Race and ethnicity also raise eyebrows, apparently. I can’t change my race or my heritage, so I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want me to read books that put me into someone else’s world. But that’s just me.

One topic not banned nearly as much as sex and swearing is violence. It’s there, but not as much as one would think if the intent on banning certain books is to protect our innocent ones from learning unsavory ways. I also didn’t find many challenges to books touching corruption. Of course, we’re conflicted about that one since corruption so often pays big dividends.

Before I step down from my soapbox, my stanch defense of books is not to silence individuals who disagree with particular content. I have my own list of books so poorly written they should have never seen the light of day much less a library, but that’s a different post. My argument against outright banning of books based on content is because it takes away the freedom of others to read and discern for themselves. I do not defend books with lies, weak research or plagiarized material – that is why we have editors, proofreaders and publishers. But I bristle at the idea of never having the choice to read The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hate U Give because someone else didn’t like the topics.

If you’ve read this far, do me a favor? Read a banned book this week (and Huck Finn doesn’t count). Exercise your freedom to read.

There are plenty of back-to-school-looks-different-in-2020 posts. I’m not writing that. My thoughts here are the same with the start of every new semester. Not just in September. Not just when the classroom is a computer screen and the teacher is wearing pajama bottoms. My biggest challenge with university students at the start of term is to convince them that mastering clear communication matters. It gets harder every year.

It doesn’t get harder because they don’t understand the value of communication. They do. But everything around them reinforces the idea that a popular Tik Tok video or an emoji-laden text is all you need to “communicate.” And you can build a career – or at least a current revenue-generating source – from that. Now, every generation has its examples of wildly successful people who built empires out of nothing save the masterful creativity in their heads – no formal education in sight. So, what do we tell youth about the value of learning?

I’m not going to slide into the discussion about whether or not today’s university degrees are worth it (student debt aside). In recent years, many major companies have eliminated their employment requirement for a college degree. And it’s not just tech giants like Google and Apple. Now, Ernst & Young, Bank of America, IBM and Penguin Random House are among those who erased the “degree earned” from their employment applications. That’s a different conversation.

Rather, when I’m faced with another 30 undergraduate faces wondering why their institution requires them to take this 3000-level course in business communications, I ask myself the same question they’re asking: Why? And the follow-up: Who cares? (And, tangentially: How can I slide through this course with minimal effort?) Answer the first question honestly and the others take care of themselves.

Answer: Because the business world today – for all its creativity and terrifically disruptive initiatives – will always need people who can write a few simple sentences and make their point. Even influence and motivate. At the very least, inform. You will not deliver the quarterly financials to the board of directors via Instagram. WeChat may very well be the best platform to grow your business, but you still have to pitch potential investors via a live Zoom call (or someday, in person). And you only have 15 minutes.

Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint presentations at his senior executive meetings. Bezos is easy to hate but I love him for this. And I emphasize clever presentation graphics less and less.

Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp says his top hiring criteria is writing skill. “You have to be a great writer to work here, in every single position, because the majority of our communication is written, primarily because a lot of us work remotely but also because writing is quieter. And we like long-form writing where people really think through an idea and present it.” Be still my writer’s heart.

And then, this summer – published the same week as World Emoji Day! – an interview with Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg where he, too, talked about hiring practices a bit out of the mainstream: The majority of roles are hired via chat. The (written) cover letter gets attention. A chat conversation happens instead of a traditional interview. “I think clear writing is a sign of clear thinking,” according to Mullenweg.

Once again (at least for one more semester) I am vindicated. I can justify the rewrite exercises and grammar quizzes and rubric categories on clear, compelling writing. Whew. Back to school indeed.

For many equine enthusiasts, the iconic image of the US West isn’t a chap in chaps on a dusty town road. It’s a herd of wild mustangs kicking up dust as they fill the horizon with magic. Nothing stops them. Nothing separates them. The plight of today’s North American mustang is anything but magical – unless you’re reading Mustang – From Wild Horse to Riding Horse by Vivian Gabor.

Within her pages, the personality and spirit of these now-feral horses take center stage. The cover teases you: “One Trainer’s Journal: Groundwork, First Rides, Obstacles, Trail Work, Liberty, Performance, and More.” The ‘more’ is what every trainer and rider is constantly searching for: insight into what our horses are thinking, what motivates them to behave the way they do.

Read the rest of my review at Arabian Horse Travel here.