The Independence Day holiday conjures up some fond memories from my childhood: twirling my baton proudly in a parade, scampering around picnics until the mosquitoes won out, and cowering under a blanket during our my town's brief fireworks show. I wanted my children to have a similar experience and when they were little, they acquiesced to my corny plans. Now that they are older, we have moved away from obediently marching in line to engaging in frequent rebellions and fiery debates. It always astonishes me how much more tuned-in kids are to politics and current events than my generation was, especially now that constant news updates are pretty much inescapable. At my house, we regularly exercise our freedom of speech and personal expression. We can spend hours questioning history and developing our own opinions and beliefs in reaction to the controversies of today.

For July, I wanted to suggest some recent nonfiction titles that discuss the rights we are granted under the First Amendment. In the true spirit of our topic, I am including books that challenge readers to form their own ideas about what this type of freedom means to them.

Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West from the Ancients to Fake News by Eric Berkowitz

"A fascinating examination of how restricting speech has continuously shaped our culture, and how censorship is used as a tool to prop up authorities and maintain class and gender disparities"

To Walk About in FreedomTo Walk About in Freedom by Carole Emberton

"Joyner's life exemplifies the deeply personal, highly emotional nature of freedom and the decisions people made, from the seemingly mundane to the formidable: what to wear, where to live, what work to do, and who to love. Joyner's story reveals the many paths forged by freedmen and freedwomen to find joy and belonging during Reconstruction, despite the long shadow."

ManifestoManifesto by Bernadine Evaristo

"Manifesto, is a vibrant and inspirational account of Evaristo's life and career as she rebelled against the mainstream and fought over several decades to bring her creative work into the world."

How Free Speech Saved DemocracyHow Free Speech Saved Democracy by Christopher M. Finan

"... Finan offers engaging evidence from a long and sometimes challenging history of free speech in America to show how free speech has been essential to expanding democracy."

Freedom: How We Lose it and How We Fight BackFreedom by Nathan Law and Evan Fowler

"Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nathan Law has experienced first-hand the shocking speed with which our freedom can be taken away from us, as an elected politician arrested simply for speaking his mind."

Seek and HideSeek and Hide by Amy Gajda

"The surprising story of the fitful development of the right to privacy-and its battle against the public's right to know--across American history."

Free SpeechFree Speech by Jacob Mchangama

"Through captivating stories of defenders of free speech throughout history, from the eighth century 'Abbāsid caliph Abū Ja'far al-Manṣūr to the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, Mchangama reveals how the free exchange of knowledge and ideas underlies all scientific and literary achievement, and how it has enabled the advancement of civil rights across the globe

The Woman They Could Not SilenceThe Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

"1860: Elizabeth Packard's husband, Theophilus, feeling threatened by Elizabeth's intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts, has her committed to an insane asylum. The conditions in the asylum are horrific. But most disturbing is that many other rational women have also been committed not because they need treatment, but were instead conveniently labeled "crazy" so their voices are ignored."

On FreedomOn Freedom by Maggie Nelson

"Drawing on a vast range of material, from critical theory to pop culture to the intimacies and plain exchanges of daily life, Maggie Nelson explores how we might think, experience, or talk about freedom in ways responsive to the conditions of our day."

Dare to SpeakDare to Speak by Suzanne Nossell

"Centered on practical principles, Nossel's primer equips readers with the tools needed to speak one's mind in today's diverse, digitized, and highly-divided society without resorting to curbs on free expression."

Burning the BooksBurning the Books by Richard Ovenden

"Ovenden takes a polemical stance on the social and political importance of the conservation and protection of knowledge, challenging governments in particular, but also society as a whole, to improve public policy and funding for these essential institutions (libraries)."

Summaries sourced from publishers' marketing materials

July's Featured Reviews

Hop on the Holds List

1. House Across the Lake - Riley Sager

2. Daisy Darker - Alice Feeney

3. The Last White Man - Mohsin Hamid

4. Ink Black Heart - Robert Galbraith

5. Nettle & Bone - T. Kingfisher

Recent Readings

I have recently finished reading The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill and The Finalists by David Bell. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the audiobook of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt.

Right now, I am reading The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl and Admissions by Kendra James. I have just started the audio version of The Road by Cormac McCarthy through our GPL Libby account.

How do you define "freedom?" Do you think recent conflict about the First Amendment will act as a bolster or a weight on free speech? Bend my ear (or email):

Wishing you all a safe and happy Independence Day!

Until next time: Be safe, be well and be well-read!


So, who am I, anyway? I am a resident of West Groton, with a husband, 4 teenaged children and a Samoyed puppy-all of whom are systematically destroying our house. I am currently working part time at the Groton Public Library and in a former life I was employed as a Director or PR/Marketing at a high-tech consulting firm. My BA is in Psychology, but most of my time was spent in college earning a Concentration on the Novel. That is all to say that I make no claims at being an expert of any kind and my thoughts, opinions and mistakes are solely my own. I am just a person whose passion for books has continued to grow from the moment I was first able to grip and gnaw on them, and I have been devouring them ever since.

Jul 01, 2022 / Joelle M Egan