Read a banned book!

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.

Banned books, photo by multimedia journalist and environment reporter Pamela Wood.
Be a dare devil ... read a "banned" book. Here are a few from my bookshelves.

After all, this is the country with the fabulous First Amendment. And readers of this blog know that, as a journalist, I am quite the fangirl of the First Amendment.

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.

In fact, the author of “Speak,” Laurie Halse Anderson*, included an afterword in her book about how important it is not to keep these kinds of books out of schools. They play a vital role.

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.

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2 thoughts on “Read a banned book!

  1. My wife and I are retired school teacher of middle and high school levels. We are both 81 years of age. she taught middle school here in the states and abroad for 41 years. After serving seven years in the army, I taught twenty-some years.

    Your efforts to keep alive our first Amendment rights is applauded by the two of us. Bless you and all who labor to keep the foundation or stasis of our Constitutional and Bill or Rights alive. Without adherence to those documents, we fall victims to the condition of serving the whims of fascism.

    I have taught World Lit, English Lit, American Lit, as well as poetry and introductory classes. Reading in fiction or non-fiction is to increase the circle in the middle of which we stand, developing into the paradox of the more we know, the more we are aware of the larger amount of what we do not know. We learn through fiction and non-fiction and poetry that nothing is as it appears to be.

    We wish you continued success in your efforts to promote more reading and to keep the First Amendment alive for all of us.

    Grant and Sonja

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