This week is Banned Books Week in America, and I’m challenging you — my dear friends, family, colleagues and readers — to put at least one banned book on your reading list.
It’s sad, really, that we need a special week to draw attention to the plight of banned books, their authors and their fans.
Unfortunately, the freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment isn’t always carried out as planned. (Or at least as how I envision it.)
Plenty of people might not like a bunch of the books that are in schools, bookstores and libraries. But we live in a great country that allows people to publish pretty much whatever they want.
But there are people out there — busybodies and ridiculous parents mostly, I imagine — who think that some books they don’t like shouldn’t be read in school classes or available in public libraries. Shame on them!
By criticizing books, they are indeed making fine use of the First Amendment. And then they tell people, mainly children, that someone else can decide for them what’s fit to read and talk about. Grr. (This really gets my dander up.)
If we don’t allow and encourage our artists — and that includes novelists — to push the envelope and tackle controversial issues, who will? A society where creativity and art and freedom of expression are discouraged is a sad place, indeed.
Sadly, many of the books that are frequently attacked and yanked from schools and libraries are super-fantastic-awesome books.
Just take a look at the American Library Association’s list of recently banned books. If you enjoy reading at all, you’ll certainly find books you love on that list.
Sure, “Catcher in the Rye” has foul language in it. But boy, does that book really capture a petulant teenager driven nuts by stupid, out-of-touch adults. Who hasn’t been there before? Holden Caulfield is a fantastic character.
Does reading “Catcher in the Rye” inspire high schoolers to act like Holden? Of course not — other than maybe to drop “phony” into their vocabulary for a little while.
Likewise, the masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird” doesn’t teach people how to be racist. It transports the reader to a different time, when race relations were quite different. It tells a story of standing up for what’s right, even if it comes at great cost. It teaches about not judging a book by its cover. And it has a spunky girl as the main character. All great stuff for kids and adults alike to read about and talk about.
I could go on and on about so many other good books on the list: “Of Mice and Men,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” (Really? We’re trying to ban Mark Twain?) “The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things,” “Slaughter-House Five,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Kite Runner,” “Speak,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” (That’s right, folks, they’re going after Judy Blume!)
What’s perhaps most depressing to me is that many of the books under attack are young adult novels.
Many of today’s YA novels are not what I grew up with or older generations grew up with — they’re better. Instead of the saccharine “Sweet Valley High” or “The Baby-Sitters Club,” kids today can read titles like “Speak,” which deals with the difficult topic of rape. Books are a great way to get kids talking about sensitive issues.
So now that I’ve had my rant, I’m going to take action. I’m going to read more titles on the list of frequently banned books.
I encourage you to exercise your First Amendment right and do the same. Happy reading!
*A note about Laurie Halse Anderson: My friend Melissa, who is a school librarian, chose “Speak” for our most recent book club meeting. I’m glad she introduced me to such an interesting book. Here’s a review of the book by fellow book club friend Elizabeth. And yet another book club friend, Jenny, just pointed me to this write-up in the New York Times of support Anderson has been getting lately.