Thursday, September 30, 2010

You Can't SayThat!

As Banned Books Week draws to a close, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the concept of forbidden fruit and the sweetness thereof.

Every year, when the list of books that have been challenged is posted, I shake my head in wonder. Then I make sure I've read everything on said list that I care to read. Sometimes something new and salacious slips under my radar. If someone (who I imagine with facial features pinched so tightly that eyes, nose and lips all merge into one scrunchy almost indiscernible feature in the middle of their face) thinks it needs to be removed from the shelves, well, it must be something worth reading. We certainly watched that happen when Tipper's folks succeeded in slapping parental warning stickers on recorded material. A parental warning sticker is as attractive to a kid buying albums as a big red clearance sign is to a bargain shopper. (I know - albums - blah blah blah - shut up and let me enjoy my crone years... and get off my lawn. Damn hoodlums.)

I am particularly offended by books that are challenged for using words that have since been deemed politically incorrect. Ok, here's the thing: I cuss like a sailor. I'm not particularly proud of it, but I'm not particularly ashamed of it, either. I cuss. A lot. But I never say the 'N' word. Never, never, never. That offends me. HOWEVER... to pretend that it was a word that was never casually used is revisionist. Attempts to ban books like Tom Sawyer or To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone With the Wind (to name just a few examples) based on their use of this word is ludicrous. That is how it was and this is how it is. We need to have enough faith in our kids to believe that they will be able to sort that out. Hey! We can even act like parents and teachers and responsible adults and HELP them sort it out. The offensive nature of this word (and others like it) is not nearly as dangerous as the offensive nature of ignorance. We can't ignore history just because it's sometimes ugly. Those who ignore history... aw, you know the rest...

I am not offended so much as I'm tickled when I hear criticisms of books that refer to menstruation, or erections, or sexual curiosity that are geared towards the 12-15 year old reader. Boy, howdy, you better believe that these books are not INTRODUCING these concepts to kids this age! Kids this age are just entering this world and it can be confusing and scary. Books can provide validation.

The last point I want to make is that parents know what is right for their child and certainly have a right to tell their own child, "I don't want you reading this." When I was in fifth grade, The Exorcist was hot. I wanted to read it in a bad sort of way. My mother said, "Absolutely not." Well, of course, that only served as encouragement. I got my hands on a copy and devoured it. Surprisingly, sleep did not come easy after I turned that last page. My mother refused to offer me any comfort. I'd made my (levitating) bed and I was going to have to lie in it. My mother, of course, was right. This was not an appropriate choice for me at that point in my life. But I did exactly what human nature compels us to do when we're told we can't have something: I sought it much harder than I would have had it been offered freely to me.

So go ahead. Keep challenging those books. It's the best way in the world to guarantee that they continue to be read.


Cheryl said...

Hoohaw and Amen! Lord of the Flies still haunts me and it was part of the reading curriculum.

Best book ever: To Kill A Mockingbird

Unknown said...

I, too, had nightmares after reading the Exorcist! (and I was an adult!) I agree--parents have the right to censor what their own kids read, period.

Pam said...

As someone who works in a library, I say hallelujah! I love what you say about revisionist history and political correctness. And I absolutely agree with you about the value of validation in books. I can't tell you how many books I've read over the course of my life looking for validation, information and advice. And it all started in 7th grade with Are You There God it's Me Margaret? and just last week I finished Don't Tell Me What to do, Just Send Money. There is knowledge in books and knowledge is power. Read on!

Ginger said...

Preach it!

Joanna Jenkins said...

I'm with you on this. And I cuss like a sailor too ;-)
xo jj

MaryRC said...

send me the list, i need a new book to read.

pick up blue boy by rakesh saytal.. you'll love it.