Did you know there are people out there still trying to ban books from schools and libraries? Have you noticed how there is always someone trying to infringe upon the freedom of others because they are afraid? I’m not just talking about books, but pretty much we’re always trying to prevent people from doing something that makes us uncomfortable. Human beings suck.
But, let’s get back to the primary topic here. It’s time to celebrate your freedom and stick it to the man (or in this case, more likely soccer moms, which, in many ways, are sooooo much worse than “the man”). This one week a year, libraries and schools nationwide celebrate the freedom to read and learn by encouraging people to read banned books. This also is a way of drawing attention to the problems that banning knowledge can cause.
Did you know Harry Potter has been banned, or at least several requests have been made for the popular and amazingly awesome series to be banned (go, Ravenclaw!). I shit you not. The primary reason? People claim that it encourages the Occult. Seriously. I’m not even going to get into the fact that there are people who honestly still believe in the occult and magic because it’s ridiculous, and sadly true. A friend of my first college roommate once lectured me because I had a book of “magic” – it was a souvenir I’d gotten from Salem, Mass. She genuinely believed it was evil because she genuinely believed in magic.
But, more importantly than the ignorance and intolerance of those who refuse to read Harry Potter, there is actual science that shows that kids who have indeed read the series grew up to be better people. Shit you not, it has been studied that those who read Harry Potter have a stronger moral ground, and are more accepting of those that are different from them. Scientific American published the results, so you can pretty well trust this as an accurate source.
The reasons people ban books are preposterous. Typically, what it boils down to, is a bunch of parents who are afraid to be invested in their children’s lives. They don’t want to have to discuss something difficult, or keep up with what the child is studying, so they try to prevent all children from being exposed to reading and learning to broaden their perspective. Things like, “offensive language” (which can be something as innocuous as “underpants”), “violence”, and “homosexuality” are some of the top reasons books get banned. Parents say their children aren’t ready to learn of such things, but here is something I have learned from being around education my whole life (my parents were both teachers, and I too taught for a while) – children are sponges, they are eager to learn and figure things out on their own.
They pick things up from everywhere, so you can’t in any way protect them from everything. Further, you can’t protect them their entire lives. They need to learn the world, and they should be exposed to these very difficult topics while they have a trusted adult to help them understand it. Seriously. Ever seen a sheltered kid in college? Buck, fucking, wild. Compare that to a kid whose parents didn’t shy away from life, and you see someone who may enjoy some of the wilder things, but has a firm grasp on how to cope with them. If you don’t talk to your kids about these things, they will experiment and figure it out on their own – without you there to help.
Which is worse? I suppose that’s up to you. But, my advice? Even though I have no children, and cannot, in any way understand what a parent goes through, I can say, as a human being raised by a mother and father who hid nothing from me, that I always appreciated being treated like a human rather than a porcelain doll. My parents trusted me to listen to them and understand that some things are important, but, ultimately, they knew that I would need to make my own decisions about difficult topics, even at a young age.
Now, I’m not saying you should go out and scar your children or subscribe them to Playboy, but if a kid stumbles upon something in life, or is exposed to a difficult topic earlier than you’d hoped, talk to him or her about it. Don’t pretend like it didn’t happen, or punish him or her for questions, openly discuss it. Ask and answer questions and encourage your child to think. Hand him or her a banned book – maybe not 50 Shades of Grey, but something like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie would be a great start.
Remember, just because you aren’t ready to talk about something, doesn’t mean your child isn’t ready to understand it. Adults tend to cling to childhood longer than children do. Trust your child to be the good human being you are raising him or her to be.
Want some more information on Banned Books Week?
The official page is bannedbooksweek.org
And here’s an awesome page for the American Library Association that has some Top 10 Lists for the Most Frequently Challenged Books.
Here is my own personal Top 10 Favorite Banned Books. I’ve linked them to Amazon in case you’re interested in reading any of them.
10. Blood and Chocolate – Annette Curtis Klause
This was banned no doubt for the sexual content – but also as being “anti-family”. This clearly shows that the people demanding this be banned never read the damn book. Granted, this is something more tuned to older children due to the many sex scenes, but it is a great book about family and the conflicts of love and family that every teenage will go through at some point.
9. Fallen Angels – Walter Dean Myers
Based on his preferred writing topics, I’m not surprised that people are requesting Walter Dean Myers’s books be banned. However, I have also never seen a writer so in tune with young men and their reading interests. Yes, there is violence and racism (it’s a freaking period piece about the Vietnam “conflict”, for christ’s sake). But, all of his books were big hits with my students when I’d recommend him. Even now, young black men don’t really have a voice in adolescent literature, but Walter Dean Myers gives them that voice. Talk about a way to understand others – I highly suggest you go find all of his books and read them. Immediately.
8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Are you fucking kidding me? This book is on the lists? UGH. If you haven’t actually read Twain, go out and do so before you ever talk to me again (no, movies don’t count). He’s an amazing author, and was one of the first to truely put American Literature on the map globally. Yes, there is nasty racist language in this book, but remember, it was a product of its time. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the saying: “those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
7. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things – Carolyn Mackler
If I see another complaint for “anti-family” in an adolescent novel, I’m going to cut someone. First, the obvious, there is nothing more “anti-family” than adolescence. Seriously. Teenagers are assholes. They’re thrust into this awkward point in their lives where they’re too old to do some things, but too young to really set out on their own. It creates angst and frustration, generally pointed at the family. Not reading a book that shows compassion and understanding for those feelings won’t make them not happen. Sorry, you’re teenager is going to hate you at some point, but he or she will get over it as long as you’re not a jackass about it. More importantly than your insecurity as a parent is the fact that this book tackles body image issues, which every human being could use a little compassion on.
6. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Eyeroll. Have you read this? Or is this something you say you’ve read so you sound like you’re well-read on the classics? Be honest with yourself, and then go read this book. Again, movies/plays don’t count. The books we deem classics are important, they show us honest reflections of times past, and teach us how to be good human beings. Typically, as with Of Mice and Men, these books ask a seriously difficult moral question. I’m not going to answer it for you here. That’s kind of the point. Go read this book.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
There is a reason this book is so popular – it’s funny, and real, and makes you feel less awkward about your own life. It’s a cult classic, that is bound to become a modern classic as it will only continue to remain popular as its original audience ages and passes it on. Life sucks, and it’s difficult, and no matter what anyone says, no one has any idea what the fuck is going on, much less on what they are doing. Books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower let you know that all of that is ok. I don’t understand why that would be viewed as an invaluable lesson.
4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Shut up. Maya Angelou is really the only answer you need as to why you should read this book. Seriously, you’ve never read something to beautiful and poignant. The fact of the matter is, this is a memoir, which makes it even more important because it’s not “inspired by true events”, it is true events. Read it, grow compassion, and fall in love with a book.
3. Boy Meets Boy – David Levithan
I cannot say enough how much I love this book. It is delightful, and fantastic, and well-written. But, it is, as the title so clearly states, about love between to teenage boys. What makes this book so special? Well, the fact that these boys are gay is not the primary topic of the book. It’s a love story, it just so happens to be about a same-gendered couple. They crush, they fall in love, they fight, just like every other teenage relationship. It’s a great way to show how normal homosexual relationships are. It tackles more difficult topics about being young and gay too, but in a way that shows that support and understanding are the best ways to help someone. No tragic ending, no didactic lessons about life or love, just a normal romance. Plus, there’s Infinite Darlene (we’re besties).
2. Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
You’re probably surprised that I put this at number 2, but only because my absolute favorite book of all time was also on a banned books list. We’ll get there. I put the link on why Harry Potter makes you a better human being, but there is something more. Harry Potter has a habit of turning young people into book lovers. And, let’s be honest, book lovers are the best kinds of people out there.
1. To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
Yes, this is legitimately my favorite book of all time. I have 4 copies because they occasionally release a special edition, and I can’t help myself. I legitimately love classic literature, which is why I don’t always list my favorite books, because I end up looking like a snob who wants people to think she’s smarter than she is. But, that isn’t true. Like I said before, classics are typically classics for a reason. In this case, we have a wonderful story about small town America, overcoming prejudice, growing up, and finding your own voice. This story enraptures me every time I read it. If you haven’t read it before, or haven’t read it in a while, go back and do so. It’s what I’m reading in celebration of Banned Books Week this year.
I have some honorable mentions (because I can never just pick 10 books):
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
And Tango Makes Three – Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson
The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
Farenheit 451 - Ray Bradberry (a book that shows the dangers of book censorship)
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
Do you have a favorite banned book? Why should I read it? I’m always looking for new ways to piss people off.