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Friday, May 17, 2013

I Read Banned Books

One of my favorite people on Google+ has again inspired me to write a blog post. Terry posted a photo that was a play on a prison mug shot. A young woman is seen in profile, holding a book in one hand. In the hand closer to the camera, she is holding a placard that says, "Caught reading banned books." I immediately loved it, because that is something I tend to do. I only wish I hadn't lost my I Read Banned Books button, because I'd have it pinned to my purse every day. 

Gram never pushed her beliefs about what people should and shouldn't read onto me. Okay, well, maybe she did. She led by example. She told me about something her father had done way back in 1919, when she was thirteen years old. Her dad had been a child laborer and had suffered an eye injury in his youth. The pupil of one of his eyes looked like an old-fashioned keyhole the rest of his life, and he had trouble reading small print. It was just Dad and Bessie - Gram's mother died from complications related to childbirth when Gram was twenty-two months old, as did the twins she carried. Gram was often asked by her father to read books or newspaper articles aloud to him since he couldn't see to do so himself. She loved him fiercely, so it never seemed to be a chore to her.

In 1919 a book was published with the title The Sheik. It was written by an Englishwoman, Edith Maude Hull, and was considered pretty racy for the era. Although not explicit, it included hinted-at sexual situations. The heroine was also a very self-determined woman, a dangerous thing in those times. Gram told me that her father had heard that the local Roman Catholic Churches were actively telling their parishioners not to read this book. Perhaps rebellion was ingrained in him due to being the offspring of Irish immigrants, I'm not sure. But as soon as he could, he purchased the book and had his daughter read it to him. He was firmly convinced of a couple of things. If someone told him he must not read something, it made him want to do so. He also felt that books weren't dangerous. They may have opposing ideas from your own, but you still have the ability use your own mind and make your own judgements and decisions. 

This is something she told me when I was in college and had purchased my banned-books pin. She was perfectly okay with me having the pin, and was in fact, proud of it, and the story she told me about her father. She had never told me anything about book banning that I recall, but if we ever saw anything on tv related to banning or burning books, she made it clear that she thought that sort of behavior was immoral and criminal. Even at a young age, if I saw film of books being burned it really disturbed me. Books were, and are, so precious to me that even if I was too young to understand the implications of them being actively destroyed, I was smart enough to know that the people involved were burning something precious.

I tend to be a live and let live person, within reason, that is. While that is my general attitude, I am certainly not going to just let someone blithely do things that are terribly wrong, like abusing their significant other or a child or an animal. What I mean is that we all like different things. Case in point: the mania associated with the Twilight films. Millions of people have read the books and seen the films, and swooned over them. To me, on the other hand, some of the newer vampire books and films are the new Harlequin romances. I hate saying that, because I love a good vampire story. But, again, to each their own, right? Incidentally, the Twilight books have been targeted by book banners.

After seeing my friend Terry's post, I was thinking about who seeks to ban books, and why. One of the comments on Terry's post said something to the effect that politicians should be banned. In my experience, it isn't the politicians who do most of the book banning. It's moms and dads who get upset about what their kids do read, or might read. I think there are several reasons, mostly subconscious, why these parents seek to ban the books they question. 

I think parents may feel threatened by ideas and philosophies and behaviors that are different from their own. Instead of allowing their children to read these things and inviting thought and discussion, they try to prevent questioning of the established mores by removing all opposing evidence. Another reason some parents seem to choose books to ban has to do with the amount of sexual content. And to take it a step further, there's a lot of folks who want to ban older books, books that contain language or attitudes that are no longer prevalent, even though the stories may be fascinating, uplifting, or just plain awesome.

I certainly can respect all of these viewpoints, but who am I to tell you what you or your children are allowed to read? Because that's what it all boils down to for me. If someone succeeds in banning a book that they don't want to read, they are depriving me of my choice and right to read whatever I wish. Hey, I've read a lot of Stephen King books. I haven't turned into a murderous horrific alcoholic druggie who wants to take over the world. I'm not that suggestible. No, I don't have kids. If I did, there would undoubtedly be some books I might want them to wait a few years to read based on their level of maturity. But I like to think I would have the sort of relationship with my kids where we could discuss the things we read in books, or why I'd like them to wait a while before reading certain stories. Yes, maybe character x in book y allowed herself to be controlled by her boyfriend. But that doesn't mean I want that to happen to you. Yes, Tom Sawyer used the "n-word," but that's not how we talk. We do love the adventure in the story, and the relationship between Tom and Jim. I'd hope that discussing and learning about other ideas and customs and beliefs would help them become the people they'd like to be.

The kind of people I would want them to be would be loving, inquisitive, and kind, among other things. I would want them to be open to new ideas, but to make up their own minds in a way that satisfied their own conscience. And I'd want them to be the be the kind of people who don't try to control what other people are allowed to read. Free readers, unite!