Banned Books Week is September 25 – October 2, a time for all of us to remember the true freedom of uncensored reading choices. When I was a kid, my parents would drive me to the library almost every Saturday morning to check out books for the week. I’d gone through the childrens’ section long before, so I wanted to read books in the adult section. Unfortunately, the adult section was restricted to…well, adults. My parents had to sign a card indicating that I had their permission to choose books from the tantalizing adult shelves, as if I was risking disease and dismemberment merely by thinking about books so far above my pay grade. I’d like to think things have changed, and in some ways, they have. No one thinks twice about preteens choosing novels from the adult section any longer (it’s not even the adult section – it’s just the fiction and nonfiction sections.) No one, that is, except a small contingent of people who can’t accept that every reader is different.
As a parent, I can understand the drive to protect my own child from influences that I find objectionable. It is, after all, my job. When he was 8, and all his friends were playing “Grand Theft Auto”, he wasn’t allowed. I wouldn’t let him watch scary movies until he was old enough to handle the images, and now that he’s facing 18, I’m starting to be less freaked out about him seeing love scenes in R-rated movies (although I have to admit that the sex scene in “Watchmen” took us both by surprise in the theater, where there was nothing to be done but talk about it later.) It’s easy to imagine that reading about sex or drug use or foul language will somehow force those behaviors to manifest in our kids. But that’s a fear response. Parents fear things all the time, but the smart ones remember that fear has to be tempered with reason. I have every right to tell my son what I think is appropriate for him to read, as much as I have the right to keep him home from a beach trip in order to take the SAT. It’s all about the choices we make for our families. Censoring my own kid is very different from telling all kids they can’t read something. It takes a little effort on my part, but I relish that right, that freedom to read whatever I and my child choose.
The complaint that makes my blood boil the hottest is “inappropriate for age group”, which is the banners’ way of saying, “You aren’t mature enough to read this book.” If that sort of standard was written in stone in all libraries, I would have been forced to keep rereading the children’s books until I was 13 years old, and that limitation would likely have damaged my love of reading. No reader is the same. No child is the same. There are 16 year old kids who shouldn’t have anything more challenging than Captain Underpants, and 11 year olds who are happily reading (and comprehending) The Lovely Bones or Brave New World . But even if a book is chock-full of adult naughtiness, it’s a matter for families to decide for themselves. The only way to make those decisions is for the book to be available in stores and libraries.
So this week, go out and read a Banned Book. Or tell your son or daughter, niece or nephew, about a book you read that someone wanted to keep away from you. Or go to the 2009-2010 list and read about the books people are trying to get rid of right now. Celebrate the freedom of literature!