My parents not only allowed me to read banned and challenged books, they actually encouraged it.
And look how I turned out.
I have a (fairly) open mind.
I don’t think people of a particular economic status or a particular religion are any better than anyone else.
I don’t believe you can judge other people or their circumstances.
I think that talking about tough and sometimes uncomfortable subjects always does more good than pretending they don’t exist.
And I encourage my own children to read banned and challenged books.
Even worse, I’m actually promoting Banned Books Week during this last full week of September, a time that frightens some people more than the last week of October.
That’s because some people are scared that their children, other children and even other adults might be exposed to books that challenge the way they think and their values. Some are even afraid their children might learn something new – usually about sex, or drugs or violence or mental illness.
And they are probably right.
When I was in sixth grade, the school administration decided to break students into different groups depending on our reading ability. I don’t remember any books my reading group was assigned. I do remember that on certain days, students in my group were allowed to read whatever we wanted.
And the book that everyone wanted to read that year was Forever by Judy Blume,
I have the distinct memory of a group of girls sitting on a pile of mattresses stacked in the corner of the school gym while a girl named Karen read passages out loud. I also remember being a bit shocked but also amazed. I had read hundreds of books, but that was the first time I had ever read a book that discussed sex.
I wasn’t sure what to think of that, and apparently the other girls didn’t either. The book didn’t condemn sex, but neither did it glamorize it. Instead, it laid out potential consequences and made all of us think.
Maybe that is what most scares people who promote censorship: thinking.
They fear that people will think rather than simply behave or believe as they are told.
Apparently, there’s a lot of fear in the United States.
According to the American Library Association, over the past ten years, more than 5,000 books have been challenged for the following reasons:
- 1,577 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
- 1,291 challenges due to “offensive language”;
- 989 challenges due to materials deemed “unsuited to age group”;
- 619 challenged due to “violence”‘ and
- 361 challenges due to “homosexuality.”
An additional 291 were challenged due to their “religious viewpoint,” and 119 because they were “anti-family.” (Some works are often challenged on more than one ground.)
Some of my favorite books are on the list of the most commonly banned or challenged books of the 21st Century:
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Now a few of my daughter’s favorite books are regularly appearing on the annual “most challenged” lists. including The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Looking for Alaska by John Green.
But here’s the thing protesters don’t get: when my daughter is reading such books, she wants to talk to me about them, and the resulting discussions are incredibly rich. They provide an opportunity to talk about values and beliefs in a non-threatening way.
And those are discussions we’d never have if the books were banned.
I certainly don’t like every book my daughter reads or every idea that is presented in them. In fact, there are some I prefer she didn’t read.
But that doesn’t mean I have the right to say the author’s words don’t count or aren’t meaningful. Doing that is stepping into very scary territory.
Just ask anyone who witnessed the Holocaust.
I want more for our next generation, and because of that, I encourage everyone to go to a library, a bookstore (whether in a building or on the internet) or their own bookshelf this week.
And I want everyone to pick out, read and enjoy a banned book.