COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — The Sorensen Banned Book Library is open for business at 58 Cottner Drive.
A surprise 50th birthday gift for Chris Sorensen, the chartered Little Free Library and the books inside are available to the public at no cost.
“The idea of it is amazing,” Sorensen told the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. “There really is no greater gift you can give somebody, especially if it’s a book you’ve read and loved. There’s really something special about that.”
All books in the library are selected from lists that various groups have attempted to ban from other libraries, Sorensen said.
He loves to read and is passionate about sharing books, particularly those stories people have tried to silence in the past.
“It’s important to show people that there is another side of the story, there are people that don’t believe these books are banned,” Sorensen said. “And, in some small way, it’s a little bit of a push back against those that would want to ban books or ask for books to be banned from public or school libraries.”
Sorensen’s favorite title, “Fahrenheit 451,” is one that’s often popping up on banned book lists. The story’s main character is a fireman, like Sorensen, except Ray Bradbury’s dystopian future depicts firemen as the ones who are starting fires, not extinguishing them.
“That’s alarming when your favorite book is on there,” he said. “I was really excited when that was one of the first books to disappear from the library.”
Sorensen is headstrong in his belief that no book should be banned. He doesn’t believe that any book is bad, or necessarily all good.
“I think it’s important to have them available to share,” he said. “Oftentimes, they’re being banned in groups of people just because they showed up on a list that somebody thought didn’t meet their political agenda. To ban a book without having read it and knowing what’s available in there … I think there are thoughts that can be used from any book to develop your own thoughts and your own growth.”
Sorensen called the unique gift a “complete surprise,” presented to him during a celebration of his daughter Alyson’s law school graduation.
“Several of my friends and family gave me presents that were books,” he said.
A website had been set up with a list of suggested titles, and many selected their favorites to mail to the Sorensen household.
“To get a whole bunch of books all at once from friends and family — knowing those books they donated had some meaning to them — that was really special,” Sorensen said.
Alyson said the idea stemmed from a running family joke. They often laughed that anytime someone gifted Chris a book, his wife and the children’s mother, Megan, grumbled about the growing library in the basement.
“We were thinking a lot about the news over the last year or so, the censorship in public and private schools across the country,” Alyson said. “Thinking about dad, his love for reading and love for ideas, it seemed pretty natural that finding some way to push back against that trend would be a good gift for him. Dad loves nothing more than connecting with people through books and getting people out in his community.”
The family ordered a Little Free Library kit online and Megan created a private Facebook event, inviting friends and family to get in on the gift with book donations.
“We linked to a couple of our favorite stores and encouraged people to write a note in those books so that dad could leaf through all of these people who share his love of reading,” Alyson said.
“It was a fun thing to do,” Megan said. “People came up with some really good ideas that weren’t on the list.”
Sorensen was also gifted a custom stamp, so that each book that circulates through the Sorensen Banned Book Library carries a piece of that with it.
“Ideas are important and it only takes one person to protect ideas,” Alyson said. “In my life, if there’s going to be one person to protect ideas, it’s going to be dad. The library is in the front yard where dad can help make sure kids in the neighborhood, or people who happen to stop by, have access to books.”
Since the Banned Book Library’s opening last month, Sorensen said he has seen some books come and go. He has noticed new books have also been added.
“It’s here, and please use it,” Sorensen said. “If you find something you like, please take it and read it. You can even leave me a note in the library and tell me what you thought, if you want to.”
Books can be picked up or dropped off at readers’ leisure. They can be returned, but it is not required.
“I’d rather they keep it or share it with somebody else that they think would enjoy reading that book,” he said.