Banned Books Week, the American Library Association’s annual celebration of reading rights, has come to an end. What a party that was!
A book party is always a good idea: stimulate imagination, stimulate conversation, provide inspiration. Putting the spotlight on attempts at censorship – that’s just particularly fabulous.
Despite calling ourselves “the land of the free” and having this fantastic First Amendment on record, our nation has seen a truly alarming rise in the number of books that people would like to see disappear. Even here in Maine we have seen the challenges begin.
The attempts were loud, rude and coordinated. A look at the top 10 list from this year and the year before and the year before shows you what you might have already guessed: the books that people want to make disappear are usually about racial injustice and LGBTQ+ Persons.
Strangely – and this strikes me as really strange – the only books on the issues in question are the ones that suggest that injustice is bad and that it might be nice to have a world where people are free to do so be as they are equality and dignity. Hate speech does not appear anywhere on the list of “dangerous ideas.” Strange.
I’ve heard the “concerns” that books that show inclusion make kids different. To be honest, I’m never quite sure what to do with it.
As some memes have pointed out more eloquently: kids reading Nancy Drew rarely snoop around abandoned mines for clues to a lost will, kids reading (endlessly) about the Titanic don’t go out to sea act out the sinking, and children who read about a gay or trans child and their experiences do not become gay themselves.
While books give us perspective and empathy for a fellow human being, they don’t turn us into something we’re not.
I personally have a deep fondness for Banned Books Week. When I was a teenager, as soon as the Most Challenged Books list came out, a stack of those very books would show up in my room, courtesy of my fabulous older sisters. My parents, both ordained ministers who believed to their core in the sanctity of free speech and free ideas, nodded in agreement.
I agree with you, I didn’t love them all. One book in particular, I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier, was just so, so sad. But I always knew I had a choice to read it or not. I had the amazing, exciting, and luxurious choice to read what I wanted to read. If I found a book that wasn’t my thing, I could put it down and walk away. But my world was not censored.
All right, wait a minute. This part gets a little nuanced, but I’ll wade in these waters anyway. There were a couple of books that my family suggested I wait to read. Some, they told me, were a little too scary or violent or mature for my situation. That makes sense to me, just as chili peppers weren’t offered to me until I was old.
But the important part is that my family made decisions for me. Not the neighbor’s mother making decisions about me. Or for the neighborhood.
We all take care of our children. As we strive to raise the next generation, I hope we know from history that the people who support censorship and burn stacks of books are never the good guys. If you’re worried about a book, talk about it. Start a real conversation about it. Don’t try to ban it. Let freedom ring.