Reading became a favorite pastime early in life. My parents read to me as long as I can remember and I mastered the skill at a young age. Once I could read, I made my way through every Little Golden Book I could convince my parents to buy and I fell in love with our neighborhood branch library the first time I walked through the doors. While still in grade school, I discovered "Heidi", the Green Knowe series, and many more. I also began to read adult books, selected with care by my mother because my reading appetite was voracious. I read my parent's Book of the Month Club edition of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" so often that my dad bought me a hardback copy for my tenth birthday, which I still have. One of the first adult novels I remember reading was "To Kill A Mockingbird.".

Today, Harper Lee's novel is one of many favorites that have a place on a banned or challenged book list.

This week is Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read that first launched in 1982. This year's theme is "banning books silences stories".

I remain an avid reader as well as a writer. And, although every reader doesn't write, it's my firm conviction that to be a writer, one must first be a reader.

As both, I am wholly against banning books. While all books, fiction or non-fiction, may not suit everyone, no one forces someone to read a book they don't like or one with principles different than their own. It's all about choice, not censorship.

Last year, 416 books were added to the list of banned and challenged books, one that numbers well into the thousands.

Some of my favorite novels on the list include Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath", "The Color Purple" by Toni Morrison, Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Frank L. Baum's “The Wizard of Oz", J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" and even "Alice in Wonderland".

Books are challenged or banned for a myriad of reasons, ranging from profane language to sex and violence. Some make their stand based on religious reasons which put popular books like J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series because of the magic deemed unchristian by some.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series has come under fire this year with accusations that the author is racist. Wilder's name has been removed from a prestigious children's book award and the controversy continues. In a similar vein, Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" has long been challenged. Sanitized versions of the book exist and during my years in the classroom as a substitute teacher I've heard it read aloud with the instructor changing some of the language.

My personal view is that neither Wilder or Twain was racist, nor did they write in a way intended to slur any group. They were products of their time and place. Readers must take their work in context of the period. History must stand as it was and I'm not fond of the current movement to sanitize history. I oppose the removal of some historical monuments and markers because it erases history. It's better to read and learn what happened in the past and learn from it than to change it.

But that's another story.

Returning to books, I was encouraged to read and expand my horizons at an early age. I have encouraged my children to do the same.

In answer to the question I pose in the title of my column week my answer is not to ban. Freedom to read may not be one of our unalienable rights but perhaps it should be.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a reporter and staff writer for the Neosho Daily News. She is also an author and freelance writer.