Take a minute to celebrate.
Banned Books Week is intended to highlight the right of every American to read what we want, the importance of freedom of information and the harm caused by censorship.
Even though freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to peaceful assembly are spelled out in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, there are people who seem the think those rights apply to them but not to others.
And even though they have the right to speak and write about their opinions, I’m grateful that everyone else does too.
And that always makes me smile.
Day 78: The First Amendment
Day 77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green Lights Day 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of Hay Day 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
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.
As a write this, I’m a little angry.
Actually, I’m really angry.
And even though my neighbor is laughing at my outrage and my husband is telling me not to embarrass him, I feel the need to share my anger.
Every day, I take my dog for a walk through the park by my house. The PUBLIC (as in partly paid for by taxpayer dollars) park by my house. Sometimes, we even go there twice a day and enjoy a leisurely stroll.
When I arrived at the park, there was caution tape haphazardly strewn up around a large section of the park. It had obviously been put there by amateurs, and I stepped over it.
I continued up a hill as a shrill voice called after me.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I ignored the voice, partly because I just don’t like being called ma’am.
The voice got closer.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I turned around.
A security risk? Really? I gave her a look that said as much, but my words were “This is a public park. I walk here every day.”
“We rented it.” she said.
“I have a hard time believing that,” I said. “You can rent a shelter, but you can’t rent a section of the park.”
The woman, who wasn’t in the best of shape and had obviously exerted herself chasing after me, tried to puff out her chest and exude her importance in her orange day-glow vest, “We did. ” she said. “And you can’t be here.”
I didn’t want to get in a fight. I just wanted to walk up the hill, but I turned around muttering under my breath.
Apparently, I’m loud even when I mutter under my breath.
Three young people, who had also been chased off, smiled at me and pumped their fists. “Power to the people,” one of the young men said. We walked together along the outside the park fence, and when we approached the “open” section of the park, we said goodbye.
But I wasn’t done.
As I watched more “security guards” (i.e. parents in orange vests) walking the perimeter of the taped-off section of the park, three more young people, one of whom was carrying a basketball, walked down the hill from the PUBLIC basketball court.
“Were you chased out too?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am,” said one of the young men said, and I didn’t mind that he called me ma’am because he said it with respect.
“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’m going to complain on behalf of all of us.”
They nodded and walked off with their shoulders slumped while the Cub Scouts (all 15 or so of them) cheered behind them.
I walked the perimeter taking pictures with my phone.
One of the parents in an orange vest, this time a man, asked if he could help me.
“I’m just taking pictures,” I said. Then I clarified, “but not of the few boys you are protecting. I’m not a security risk. I’m just taking pictures of how you aren’t letting me use a public park.”
There was no answer.
Maybe I AM blowing this out of proportion, and I DO understand the need to protect young children.
But I have issues with how this whole situation was handled.
Every day, there are dozens of children playing on the playground that was blocked off, and no one has ever before prevented me from walking my dog there. If the parents were that concerned about security, there are plenty of other more private and secure locations where they could have held their event. Even if the group had rented the park, and not just a shelter, they could have actually put up polite signs rather than tape that signaled anyone who crossed it was a criminal.
Most of all, there just weren’t enough boys attending the event to outweigh the members of the public who were prevented from using the PUBLIC facilities.
And all of that means I’m angry. I am angry not only about the arrogance with which I was confronted but also about the self-righteousness with which I was told I was a security threat.
And because of that, this is one battle I am willing to pick.