Happy #BannedBooksWeek fair readers! I thought I’d pause briefly in the midst of my creative writing tips and literary analysis to pay tribute to this important awareness project and celebrate our freedom to read.
According to their website, Banned Books Week (traditionally, the last week of September) started in 1982 in response to a rise in the number of books banned not just in schools, but also in libraries and bookstores. Before looking this up, I didn’t realize that Banned Books Week had been a thing longer than I’ve been alive. Apparently I wasn’t paying attention to this until the last 5 or so years. The organization also claims that more than 11,300 books have been scrutinized since 1982! That’s a lot of books.
They also have a list of the top ten most challenged books of 2015. What interests me about the top ten list from 2015 is the number of times sexuality or sexual orientation is mentioned as the reason. The list includes: Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and more. Sadly, I have read very few of these books. Time to adjust my reading list!
According to the ALA, books challenged between 2000 and 2009 were questioned due to the presence of sexually explicit material, offensive language, content that was unsuited to the assigned age group, violence and/or homosexuality.
People try to ban books for a variety of reasons, obviously. But mainly, I believe that people try to keep others from reading the content because they disagree with the message and they want to control what others are able to see and thus control them. For me, it falls into the category of moral issues. Someone does not believe that abortion should be allowed because they view it as wrong. Well then, don’t have an abortion. Don’t force me or anyone else to comply with your morals though. It may not be the right decision for you. But it might be right for someone else. The same thing goes for books. Fine. Don’t read it. But don’t try to keep other people from experiencing it simply because it doesn’t fall within your narrow scope.
The above being said, I do believe in age-appropriate content (to an extent). But I do believe that all people deserve to have all of the facts or perspectives at their disposal so that they can each form their own opinions based on all of the evidence before them. As the ALA website puts it, it’s about the “freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
I also believe that a literature class is the perfect environment in which students can explore ideas under the careful, educated and knowledgeable guidance of a teacher. Teachers are experts. We need to start treating them like the valuable resources that they are. A classroom should be a safe place where ideas can be exchanged and teased out. I felt that my college experience was like this, but I was deep within the safe haven of a real English department. I wish that high schools in particular could provide this experience/environment for their students. Not only would they have the freedom to explore, but perhaps we would also produce more readers!
Anyway..I’m getting a bit off track here. The English major in me is coming out and is ready to swing on all of these issues. Frankly, when I hear that a book is being challenged or banned, it is just further motivation for me to pick it up and read it. Granted, I’m a fully grown adult and no one can tell me what I can and cannot do. But for me, the principle of it all is the same. As a child, I don’t ever recall my mother telling me that I couldn’t read something. Actually, I remember quite clearly the first time I read a book that had a vivid sex scene in it. I had just started picking out books in the adult section (the section for grown-up readers. Not romance or erotica or anything of the kind.) of the book store, specifically in the Fantasy/Science Fiction department. I think I was probably in sixth grade. If my mom knew about it, she never said anything and I’m glad she didn’t because I was able to make my own inferences about sex without her own opinions to influence me. (I suppose I should pause here briefly and mention that my mother was a responsible parent and taught me about sex and procreation. I don’t want there to be any misconceptions about my upbringing or my mother’s excellent parenting.) I’ve always been a reader and I’ll admit, some of my opinions about sex and sexuality were formed as I thought about the various stories I read.
As a writer, I have dreamed—as we all have—of breaking into mainstream publishing. But I also have a secret dream beyond being picked up by a publisher. My new life goal? Write a book that winds up on the banned books list. I dream of writing a book that ruffles someone enough that it gets banned. The ability to affect someone so profoundly would be extremely gratifying. I would wear that banning like a badge of honor.
In conclusion, please read. Explore the world around you beyond what is at the end of your nose (if you read my blog, I’m probably just preaching to the choir here…but still). Experience other cultures, other perspectives and decide for yourself what makes sense for you. And please give your fellow humans the same courtesy. Do not extend your morality upon them. Encourage your children to read; allow them to read what they want and allow them the opportunity to learn about the world and form their own opinions. Do not project upon them the life you think they should live as opposed to allowing them to be themselves. Be a guide, not a wall.