Friday, September 23
Banned Book Week
It's no secret that world history is full of books many people would rather had never been written. From the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria to modern day movements to outlaw Huck Finn, people have passionately and sincerely argued about the shadowy gray area on the front lines of the battle between preventing objectionable literature and freedom of speech.
I was introduced to the fierce debate over banning books in high school - way back when the first Harry Potter book came out. Skeptical of the antithetical arguments for and against the tome, I picked up a copy and read it myself.
After that, I picked up the Banned Book List to find out what else was supposedly unfit for mental consumption. Unfortunately, that endeavor didn't last long - when I picked up Forever by Judy Blume I quickly grew to appreciate the motivation to burn a book. (If you've ever accidentally read smut, you know that fervent longing to be able to crack open one's own skull and bleach out what you just put in. Ugh!)
At that point, I finally wised up. I started reading reviews of banned books and finding out why people didn't like them before I considered putting them on my reading list. A little (historically appropriate) racist language? Not a big deal in my book. Nasty, filthy subject matter? Thanks, but I'll pass.
I've actually read a number of banned or "objectionable" books since then. I always come away with the same general opinion. It's far more important to teach individuals how to think and judge for themselves than it is to protect them from bad writing.
Keeping in mind that you can't ever erase something from your head once you've read it, unless something is grossly macabre or sexually disturbing, people often become a lot more intelligent and articulate when they read things that don't align with their opinions or beliefs.
It isn't until something we have always held as true is challenged that we really learn to explain our position and defend out beliefs. It isn't until we see sloppy, insulting writing that we appreciate why we liked or preferred a different author's prose or style.
The American Library Association (ALA) has declared September 24th - October 1st Banned Book Week.
If you have older kids, I encourage you to consider whether there are any age-appropriate banned or controversial books you could read together this coming week. Talk about why the book is a source of contention, how people can make good choices about what they read and why it's so important to carefully guard what we fill our minds with.
If you don't have kids, consider challenging yourself to read one book off the list and do a little critical thinking yourself.
Finally, if you happen to be particularly pro-book-banning will you do me (and every future high school student) a favor? Start banning depressing, annoying authors like Dickens, Hemingway and Melville that no one wants to read anyway and get them off the required high school reading lists! If you're going to ignore the virtues of free speech, at least do so in a constructive way, okay?