Yay! I love Banned Books Week! It’s so fun to remember when books got put on trial in the U.S. Court System for being obscene (I’m looking at you, Ulysses, you dirty book), to think about why people want to get books “banned” or taken out of school or public libraries, and to think about how many of those ‘classics’ we had to read in school caused a lot of controversy in their day. (A note about that list, those are just the books considered “classics” that were written in the 20th century. Just think about all the other centuries, too!)
This week, I actually found a website, SafeLibraries, that is fairly hilarious and celebrates when libraries/schools remove a book to protect the children! They also talk about the ALA’s propaganda about banned books and how terrible that is. Call me naive, but I didn’t think that anyone really set out to make the ALA their enemy. Or librarians/libraries in general. Wait. Except for maybe those citizens of River City, Iowa in “The Music Man.” Marian Paroo did give out “dirty books,” and people were upset.
But in general, I think banning, or challenging, books is strange. Maybe even more strange than wrong. I understand that some parents or people may have reasons for not wanting to expose their child to some materials, but contrary to rumor, we don’t force very eight-year-old who walks in the library door to take a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey or A Clockwork Orange or the Anarchist’s Cookbook or And Tango Makes Three or whatever sexually explicit/violent/anarchist/gay penguin book to which someone might object. I have on a number of occasions told a child that they should ask their parent if they can read a book. The six-year-old who wants to read Twilight? After I finished weeping for her generation, I told her to ask her mom and that it might be a little bit difficult for her. And that it sucks. Just kidding, I didn’t say that, but I sure did want to.
At the end of the day, what you consider to be appropriate for your kid may not be what I find appropriate for my hypothetical child or someone else’s. In some ways, everyone’s standards are different. Author Philip Pullman probably wouldn’t want his kids to read C.S. Lewis’ works and maybe James Dobson wouldn’t want his to read The Golden Compass, but that doesn’t mean that someone else shouldn’t be able to read it. I say, take responsibility for those whom you are responsible, and let everyone do the same. If you don’t want your kid to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, then fine tell your kid no, but someone else needs that story. Because stories are important. Don’t take away a story from the girl who needs that story or needs to know that someone else understands her. Back to Lewis, as Aslan says in The Horse and his Boy (aka the totally underrated Narnia book), “I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own.”
Finally, here’s two last things, a quote from Richard Kearney’s book On Stories, which is short and lovely and worth reading, about the the impact of books on us and our actions:
“The rules of poetic license are generally understood by people sitting in a darkening cinema or theater, opening the pages of a novel in a room, or listening to someone in a cafe or pub begin a story with the words, ‘I tell you no lie . . .(which in Ireland means the opposite). The bottom line, as the judge in the New York court ruling on Joyce’s Ulysses said, is that, ‘no one was ever raped by a book’. To suggest otherwise is not only to underestimate ordinary people’s intelligence, but grossly to insult those who experience real violence in in the real world. People just know, and have known, since the first palaeolithic caveman said, ‘I’ll tell you a story . . . ‘, that there is a difference between lived and recounted life. And the first civilization to erode that difference, or our awareness of it, is a civilization in dire straights.”
Then here’s a picture of the poster part of the Banned Books Display I’ll be putting up today that I made out of pages of an old Fahrenheit 451. I think it looks quite nice. (And I just blanked out random words, leaving in all the swears I could find!)
P.S. Sorry! One more thing, a thought-provoking article from the only guy worth reading on Slate these days/the only guy who doesn’t seem to write about HBO’s Girls all the time, William Saletan: Hate-Speech Hypocrites.