It’s coming up on Banned Books Week, and I’m sure this post will get lost in a virtual sea of posts about the idea of banned books, especially in a country like ours. I mean, considering we have the First Amendment that backs up the right of a free press, the idea that books are banned—any books—is something of a contradiction.
Why does this happen?
There’s not one blanket answer that’ll cover that question. Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned in spots because it uses the dreaded n word. We all know who horrible that is. It doesn’t matter the cause, if you’re any race but black and use that word, you’ve just uttered a blasphemy. Never mind that Mark Twain was anti-slavery and used some of Huck Finn’s musings to illustrate how much ignorance plays into racism, we have to ban it because it uses that word. No, no, don’t bring up that it teaches a lesson, that we can learn something about history from it, see a snapshot of our country back then. None of that matters. We have to ban it because it uses…that word.
Then there’s the more recent debacle around the Harry Potter books. Some school libraries were (and maybe still are) banning them because some hysterical parents became convinced that they were enticing kids into the dark reaches of the occult.
For shame! We can’t have our kids think for themselves and decide what religion or spirituality—which is a very personal matter—they want to practice and find comfort in. Why, if they read too many Harry Potter books, next thing you know they’ll be sacrificing babies. There’ll be anarchy and society will collapse.
Never mind that these books are responsible for more kids getting a start on reading then any books in recent memory. Never mind that these so-called “lessons” in the occult amount to Harry or some other wizard pointing a wand and uttering a phrase that sounds vaguely Latin.
If I remember right, a large percentage of the school districts that allowed this affront to human intelligence take place were in the Bible Belt. I know one of them wasn’t far from where I live, and I was sorely tempted to drive down there and see just how inbred these people were. Or maybe they were just plain stupid.
It strikes me that most of this Banned Books thing stems from insecurity. I mean, don’t you think that kids can read Huckleberry Finn—especially these days—and not realize the lesson on racism that lies just below its surface? Despite what self-serving gasbags like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would have you believe, a perusal of history will show that racism is far rarer now than it was in Mark Twain’s day, and I think our kids are smart enough to pick up on it.
Having one of your books banned has an upside, though: increased sales. It’s the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I just read Ozzy Osbourne’s autobiography, and when he talked about the lawsuit that was brought against him when some kid allegedly killed himself because of Ozzy’s song “Suicide Solution” (which actually talks about how being an alcoholic is a form of slow suicide), his record sales went up. It’s the same with a book. I’m sure JK Rowling cried all the way to the bank over the foofraw raised over her books. She just looks like an evil woman, doesn’t she? There’s got to be something evil going on behind that wide smile and under that blond hair. Got to be.
My daughter has said that one of her goals as a writer is to make it onto the Banned Books list. Well, it’s an admirable goal, at least to me, but how much effort does it really take? I mean, c’mon, man. I’ve looked at some of these lists (they vary, depending on where you’re at in the country and/or world), and it doesn’t take much to get on the list. I’ve seen books on there that I’ve read and I can’t for the life of me think why they’re on the list. At least one of these lists also gave the reasoning behind the ban, but I only remember seeing one (though I’m sure there are more). I wish I had a list in front of me so that I could name one or two of those books, but I don’t, and I can’t remember any off the top of my head.
Want a sure-fire guarantee that your kid will read a book? Put it off-limits. If you think they’ll obey you, you suffer from some kind of delusion. They’ll just check the thing out and leave it in their locker at school. Sure, you can send word to the librarian and tell him/her not to let Junior check out this or that book, but Junior will just get his friend Billy to check the thing out for him. Or maybe someone else altogether.
I will go so far as to agree that certain subject material is probably age-dictated. I don’t think you want to have your three-year-old reading The Silence of the Lambs. Or one of Anne Rice’s erotica novels. They should be at least five years old before they crack one of those books open.
Seriously, though, despite what I’ve heard some people say, I think that there are certain subjects best left until your child is more mature. What age that is is best determined by the parent, rather than using some kind of blanket application. One size definitely doesn’t fit all here.
So, in commemoration, go out and read a banned book. You never know what you might learn.