Happy Banned Books Week!

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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!

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14 comments to Happy Banned Books Week!

  • I such a big believer in being provided all the guidance and information I need to let me decide if I’ll read / view something.
    Well done, Misty, for actually taking an interest in your child’s upbringing 🙂
    Here in Australia there is a senator (the minister for communication) who is pushing a mandatory internet filter that would keep a secret black list of sites that have not been classified according to the Australian media classifications or that have been refused classification because they don’t fit into one of the defined classifications.
    Mandatory and secret are the two key words. So we miss out on a book or new article and will never know we have, nor know why we missed out. Of course every other political party has vowed to vote it down, so no chance of getting it, but the thought is there now.
    I find the work of the Marquis D’Sade to be quite objectionable, but it is none-the-less a work of literary art and surely deserves at least a recognition for its unpleasantness even if I don’t want to read it. Maybe his work would be deemed inappropriate for age group? 🙂
    I agree, read something someone is trying to ban (unless doing so will actually get you charged with a crime, obviously don’t go committing crimes).

  • Tdancer2

    Misty, thanks for this. I’m going to check out the list and pick up something I otherwise might skip. The first thing a conquoring nation does when trying to subdue a group of people is take away their language. It’s amazing how much language and the stories of old (and new) define a culture and bring them together. All words are worth preserving.

  • mudepoz

    Excellent post. Banning books is so Fahrenheit 451. I remember reading the Exorcist in Middle School. The other kids were reading it as well. Their copies were taken away. Mine, signed to me, was not. Something about what my parents did for a living, and please to keep it under wraps so the other kids wouldn’t see it.

    I think my mother may have mentioned I learned to read with comic books, so there was some redeeming quality to my choices of reading material. Wish I still had the first issues of Howard the Duck. LOL.

  • Can I add my support my quoting one of my favorite song lyrics (alluded to in one of my mysteries)? Andy Partridge’s brilliant “Books are Burning” on XTC’s Nonesuch album also extant as a rare live performance for the BBC. Fantastic stuff. If you get chance, listen to it. The words are underscored by a soaring pair of guitars at the end…

    Books are burning
    In the main square, and I saw there
    The fire eating the text
    Books are burning
    In the still air
    And you know where they burn books
    People are next.
    I believe the printed word should be forgiven
    Doesn’t matter what it said
    Wisdom hotline from the dead back to the living
    Key to the larder for your heart and head.
    Books are burning
    In our own town, watch us turn round
    And cast our glances elsewhere.
    Books are burning
    In the playground
    Smell of burnt book is not unlike human hair.
    I believe the printed word is more than sacred
    Beyond the gauge of good or bad
    The human right to let your soul fly free and naked
    Above the violence of the fearful and sad.
    The church of matches
    Anoints in ignorance with gasoline.
    The church of matches
    Grows fat by breathing in the smoke of dreams.
    It’s quite obscene.
    Books are burning
    More each day now, and I pray now
    You boys will tire of these games.
    Books are burning
    I hope somehow, this will allow
    A phoenix up from the flames.

  • Misty, thank you for this. A few random thoughts —
    I seldom think about my right to read and learn and grow as a person — which takes the written word.

    Women in many countries today don’t have that right.

    And banning books is dangerous — even if it preserves *natinonal security*. I heard that on the radio this weekend when I was driving and switching channels. I never heard the context but the announcer was saying that 10,000 copies of *it* had been burned citing national security concerns. How sad.

  • *sighs* I don’t understand banning books. Knowledge is the key to freedom and so critical for a democracy. I understand parents not letting kids read some book (age appropriate, or even just “my kid” appropriate), but not over all banning.

    AJ> That song reminds me of the burning of Lollard heretics in England (late medieval period). Paul Strohm has an interesting article on how in order to burn people you first had to write about the possibility of burning. So before the burnings we see a rise in language like “separate the wheat from the chaf and burn the bad stuff…” (not a direct quote of course). I did work on a romance (The Siege of Milan) in which Saracens were burned alive and their idols exploded first. An interesting connection–before you can actually *do* something, you have to think it and then say it (or write it). Of course, that connects to the idea of burning books turning into burning people. Once you light one fire, it is very much easier to light another. Both literally and figuratively.

  • When people ban books, or advocate banning books, there you find someone attempting to control others. It’s not about freedom or democracy, Pea, it’s about controlling the thoughts of others to insure only certain ideas are considered. It’s a way to destroy cultures and dissent and anything remotely dangerous to those doing the banning. And, man o man, does it get my blood boiling. Must go chill. Must go chill.

  • IIRC, Charlotte’s Web was big on that list for a while. I remember my mom getting angry about the banning of that one back around the 70s. She’d found it and read it to me and I didn’t see what the big deal was. The only part of the rant I could remember was some felt that it was evidently blasphemous to have talking animals in a story.

    I’d read that Harry Potter is challenged lately.

    It’s a shame how a few narrow-minded people can hold so much power over the populace as to affect views on what is acceptable even in literature.

    I despise book burning, any book.

    I was sort of raised on comics too. Had the “Origins Of” for Spider Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Incredible Hulk that I loved to read. They were in a box set in sort of TPB form. And I’m thankful that my mom never really kept me away from anything. If I felt I was old enough to read or watch it she’d let me. In 1979, she let me stay up to watch The Martian Chronicles when it aired. That and Space 1999 was probably my biggest introduction to Science Fiction other than comics back then. I was 8. Didn’t see Star Trek until much later, in syndication.

  • Thanks for this, Misty. I’ve always been shocked by the very idea of banning books. Not only does it run counter to everything that we, in this country, are supposed to believe in, but it also just doesn’t work. The quickest way to get hundreds of thousands of people interested in a book is to have a government or church or some other institution say “YOU CAN’T READ THIS!” I actually wish they’d try to ban my books. That might drive up my sales.

  • Sarah

    I admit that there are books I’d like to see die a natural death from neglect. There are books that contain ideas I consider downright evil. But burning or banning books – it makes my skin crawl. There’s something life threatening in the very idea. I mean truly life threatening, antithetical to the life of the mind, the nature of the human soul. Read a book and reject it, fine. Some things should be rejected. But burning them en mass or banning books from libraries…No. That’s the road to the gulag. It might be a smiley, therapeutic gulag with all the best intentions in the world, but it would still be a gulag.

  • Wow, guys! I’ve loved reading your thoughts today. I don’t espouse any one political party, but if there was a Read Books party, I’d join in a second! As a (former) librarian and a (former)teacher, a reader and a writer (THOSE I still am!), I believe in the amazing power of the written word.

  • The one that always (and still) leaves me shaking my head is when they ban Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451.’ I’ve read the book four or five times and still can’t imagine the grounds on which they would ban it, though it has been banned numerous times. In all seriousness, can someone explain this to me…?

  • Ed, the official claim was profane language, but many people have suggested that the real reason was the implication that the government should be opposed. Can’t be flinging around such seditious ideas, you know!

  • Young_Writer

    I’m actually reading an “adult” book right now, The Red Tent. I’ve ran out of books of my own so I’m reading my mother’s. Too bad she doesn’t read fantasy…