Banned Books Week: Read Often, Read What You Want

Don’t tell me what to do. Or more specifically, what not to do. I think that’s been a mantra of mine since about the age of five. I’m a Taurus, the most stubborn of the Zodiac signs, if you’re inclined to place any value in that sort of thing.

Maybe that’s why the subject of censorship and banned books riles me up so much. It’s not the idea that some material is inherently offensive or should be off-limits to my children if I don’t feel they are mature enough to handle it, but rather the people who presume to take responsibility over what should be MY decision, as an individual, and as a parent, to make that determination.

In my opinion, unless it’s criminal, there is nothing wrong with exploring new worlds or ideas. The busybodies who focus their energy on objecting to the content of books in public and school libraries, should be more concerned that children are not being taught the critical thinking skills necessary to break down the material, understand what they are reading and apply it to the proper context, especially in today’s world where so much information comes from the internet, and is unsourced or poorly sourced. Children need to be equipped with the tools to figure where information comes from, evaluate it from an objective and historical perspective, and make a reasonable decision about whether or not to consider it relevant, or how to view it.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s classic story, purposely written in the local dialect prominent during its time period, is a favorite target of parents who are upset with the vulgar and crude language. Words used in the book are most certainly offensive. In fact Huck Finn was republished in 2011 by NewSouth Books, and the word “slave” was substituted for one of the most offensive words.

To me, the revisionist work is ridiculously more offensive than the language it’s trying to protect us from seeing. By denying the vernacular of the time, it minimizes the great strides society has made to overcome the rampant and blind racism common to the 19th century. Do we deny the Holocaust happened because the atrocities committed by the Nazis are too unpleasant to think about? The key to appropriately analyzing a novel like Huck Finn is to understand the context in which it was written. Critical thinking.

The reason studying history and reading controversial literature is so important, is because we must learn from it, discuss it, figure out how to do things better, and to view the world in an honest and unedited light. Not everyone acts like we do. Everyone makes their own choices. We all have unique beliefs. We are all flawed. And we all have different things to offer. A child, or an adult for that matter, who can evaluate something independently, won’t be “harmed” by being exposed to another viewpoint, lifestyle, or philosophy.

Should another parent, a religious figure, a doctor, a librarian, a therapist, a teacher be the arbiter over what I or my child reads? No. I, and I alone should have that right. The U.S. Constitution says that I do. No one person should be allowed to have a say about what I have access to. If someone is concerned about material they find inappropriate, there is a very simple solution. Don’t read it. Don’t allow your child to read it. Leave everyone else out of it. And stop wasting my time and tax dollars trying to impose your will on me.

September 24th through October 1st is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), and other organizations dedicated to celebrating the free and open access to information.

Maybe you’ve read a few of these works. According to the ALA, the following books have been frequently challenged, censored, or banned within the last five years. I’ve only read six on the list. Clearly I need to work harder on corrupting my mind.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
And Tango Makes Three, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Catcher in the Rye,
J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Crank, Ellen Hopkins
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Flashcards of My Life, Charise Mericle Harper
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Gossip Girl (series), Cecily von Ziegesar
His Dark Materials (trilogy), Philip Pullman
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
It’s Perfectly Normal, Robie Harris
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Lush, Natasha Friend
My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult
Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Olive’s Ocean, Kevin Henkes
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
Revolutionary Voices, Amy Sonnie
Scary Stories (series), Alvin Schwartz
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), Lauren Myracle
Twilight (series), Stephenie Meyer
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding, Sarah S. Brannen
What My Mother Doesn’t Know, Sonya Sones

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

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3 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: Read Often, Read What You Want

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