Did you know that this week is Banned Books Week? I didn't until I heard about it from Sheila over at Book Journey. Banned Book Week is a week for recognizing censorship and the importance of freedom in literature. To celebrate, Sheila has gathered up bloggers to highlight the week with reviews of and discussions on banned books.
When I first sat down to write my post, I was afraid I wouldn't know what to say. And then a billion words poured out of me. Oops. Apparently I am passionately opinionated about this subject. So...I've decided to split my Banned Books post in two. Today is part one, wherein I spew forth how I feel about censorship and use a nice real world example to drive the lesson home. Tomorrow is part two, using myself as an example.
Censorship in literature is not something that has disappeared. Don't fool yourself into thinking that we are too modern and forward-thinking to allow this to happen. It still occurs regularly. It happens in our own backyards. The United States of America, for all of it's freedoms, rights, and privileges, is not immune to the confines of censorship.
There are two primary reasons for why I think censorship of literature has no place in our society:
1. In the United States, freedom of speech is one of our most basic rights. The written word is merely a visual extension of this right. Putting words into a book shouldn't cause them to be stifled or hidden away any more than the statuses that you and I so freely post to Facebook or Twitter. In many cases (let's be honest here, what I made for dinner isn't going to change the world), these books are more important to keep available than those mundane posts about our daily lives. Yet for some reason, parts of society still feel that it is okay to tell me what I can or can't read. And to dictate what my kid can or can't read. I'm not alright with that. I'm a big girl. I can decide for myself. I also have an ability to parent my own child. He gets enough instruction from me and his dad, we don't need you bossing him around too.
2. Most challenges start in an attempt to shield children from material that some group feels is inappropriate or threatening. However, banning or challenging a book often serves to do nothing more than make the book more taboo and thus generally more desirable for the population that those banning it are intending to "protect" with their actions. In other words, banning or challenging books very often backfires and makes more people read them. Yup. Free publicity. Well done protesters.
Now...how about a local (and very recent) example of what happens when someone wants to eliminate a book from delicate little eyes.
As with several other locations in the nation, a school district here attempted to ban (and succeeded to a certain extent) The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The reasoning behind this was that parents were afraid that the book's frank discussion of masturbation would be too graphic for the sophomores - SOPHOMORES - who were destined to read it as part of an elective English course. "One local said it subjects children to filthy words 'we do not speak in our home'...the book features 'reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian'." The Guardian, April 2014
I'll be completely blunt with you -- this reasoning infuriates me. It is closed-minded, naive, and ludicrous. It expresses everything that is wrong with this practice. Let's break it down...
- The readers in question are sophomores in high school. This means they are 14-15 years old. These "children" are old enough to interpret a book and apply it to their own lives appropriately. They are not naive toddlers. I don't know about you, but at age fourteen I was aware of what masturbation was and I definitely had been exposed to enough "filthy words" outside of books. Despite this, I was not a deviant and I didn't cuss like a sailor. Incredible.
- This class was an elective. Students had to choose to place themselves in this course. If a parent really had an issue with their child reading that book, could they not just voice that opinion to their child? Have we really become so ineffectual at parenting our own children that we can't have a discussion with them? Perhaps elect not to have your child take that class rather than deciding what my child is okay to read. Don't parent my kid for me. I can handle it. Guess what? Based on what I know about the book, after reading it myself I would probably have no problem letting my kid read this book right now. And he's twelve. At his age, I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (also a banned book) and it didn't destroy me for the future. I feel comfortable assuming that he won't be exposed to anything that will harm him or that will steer him in the wrong direction in life. It's a book. Maybe he'll actually learn something. Maybe it will spur some form of conversation that he needs to have with me or his father. Or maybe it will just give him something to think about. Attempting to shield a child from this knowledge by banning a single book isn't going to work. Anyone with half a whit of sense would recognize that.
- The book has been viewed by many as "anti-Christian". Umm....what? Last time I checked, a substantial part of the population is not Christian. I honestly see this as a frivolous argument. Along with freedom of speech, we are also given freedom of religion in this country. I am allowed to think whatever I like and believe whatever I feel like believing. That includes my opinions about other religions. Oh...and while we're at it, just because a book is "anti-Christian", reading it is not going to cause me to suddenly develop some deep seeded hate for all things Christian. I feel pretty safe saying it most likely wouldn't do that with any of these potential readers, either. Calm down.
And remember how I mentioned earlier that banning (or challenging, as this case is technically considered) will just make people want to read the book more? Guess what happened just days after this incident started up? A GoFundMe Campaign was founded that resulted in 700 copies of this book being distributed for free to local citizens. Let's take this a step further and make it personal. I had this book on my radar prior to this event, but it hadn't made it to my TBR. After this whole debacle, you'd better bet it made a nice, firm entry on my list. I'll be reading it before the year is up. Yup...banning...totally effective and worthwhile.
What about you? How do you respond to the thought of banned books?
Want to read more about Banned Books Week? Go check out all the participating bloggers over at Book Journey and then check back tomorrow for part two of my posts on banned books.