It's Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week. Pick a book on Google's page that you haven't read, and read it this week.

Many of those books I read in high school, for class, bless you well-funded suburban Massachusetts school system!

The other day at coffee, my coworkers and I discussed the mentality that leads people to think that banning books might be a reasonable response to... well, anything. We took turns reading parts of the wikipedia list of banned books. When we got to the reason why Black Beauty was once banned, we declared a victor in the Stupidest Reason to Ban contest. (Though since it's wikipedia, I'm not entirely sure I believe it.)
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I went to this link off the google list page:, and it gave me lots to think about. I've always been pro-freedom and read anything I could get my hands on. But looking at it now, as a parent, and as someone with way more interesting life experiences to draw from, I have to agree with some of the bans For Some Audiences.

Some of the stuff on the list represents curriculum challenges by parents (and yes, some religious groups) to certain books being used in middle school and high school settings, and the reasons given-- explicit language or sexual content-- make sense to me. Some kids aren't ready for some of the themes and situations presented in some of these books. Of course, they're not ready for a good deal of what goes on in Prime Time network TV anymore, so maybe it's a case of closing the barn door after the horse is long gone.

But it made me think about freedom, and responsibility. About the kinds of things I want to read with my son as he grows older-- not just turn him loose on some of these books, as I was, with nobody I could turn to when I ran up against disturbing new ideas-- but to reread them myself and go through things I remember being scary or uncomfortable when I was younger, and may still find so now. And to be there for him when he needs to talk.

It made me think about how I believe that the books people read and connect with really do shape the kind of people they become. Would I have gotten though the last six years, if I hadn't had a strong helping of King Arthur and Tolkien and Narnia grounding my belief that a better world exists, or it will if I am brave enough to fight for it? I'm not sure, but I tend to doubt it.

At the same time, books like Lord of the Flies are Supposed to be disturbing. Sometimes, the only way to get past the narcissism of childhood is to receive a shock to the system like that book delivers. That's where responsibility comes in-- teachers and parents being willing to go there, and not just turn their kids loose to play in traffic unsupervised. Banning books is not the answer-- being sensitive to the readiness of individual children, and presenting them well-- is.


You have an Actual Kid, so these are real every-day issues for you. I merely have a Theoretical Kid, one we'd like to have. And of course, we each have our childhood experiences. This is what I have learned from my childhood, which I attempt to apply to Theoretical Kid, at least as a plan.

I would like my kid to be able to be free from me, if he or she needs to be. Because this was critically important to me. My parents were and are religious fruitbats. Their religion: not so hot on the equality of women, or the reality of evolution as a way species got here, or various sensible medical treatments. At the time that I graduated from high school, their religion said that people should not pursue higher education, because that's "worldly" and selfish.

My parents are an odd mix of influences. The religion is overlaid on organic-food-growin', novel-readin', liberal-thinkin' hippie-dom. The contradictions, illustrated: When I was a high school senior, working on the Dread Christmas Break Updike Paper for senior English, my father found my copy of Rabbit, Run. He freaked out. "WHERE DID YOU GET THIS FILTHY BOOK?" he said. "I'm reading it for school. It's mom's copy." And he slunk off with his tail between his legs.

They never prevented me from reading anything. They never prevented me from reading anything, and the house was full of SF novels from my father's youth. I remember standing next to him in the bookstore when he bought Tolkien in paperback, and then reading the books after he read them. (I still have those copies, though they're battered up.) Thus, later, I read Richard Dawkins, and that wild evil book, The selfish gene. And thus I figured out that their religion was lying to me about evolution. And thus I figured out that it was lying to me about a lot of things. And thus I escaped. I went to college, and I moved away to grad school, and I never looked back.

And from this I learn the importance to me of kids being able to read things that freak their parents out. Because their parents aren't necessarily sane. And yes, I'm willing to apply this principle to me and my kid (should I be so lucky).

I have to be willing to entertain the possibility that I'm wrong about something major about how to live. And that if my ideas are valid, they'll stand up to being tested.
I worked in a public library for 21 years. The stuff that people are willing to let their kids read or not read and their reasons for it are truly amazing. We had a book complaint form that was fairly specific and requested examples from the book in question--so somebody couldn't just send in a bunch of friends who hadn't read the thing at all to complain about it. The last question on the form was--Do you believe other people have the right to tell you what you are allowed to read? I don't think there was one person that ever said yes to that question. Not one.
When I was a kid, my sister tried to get the Wizard of Oz from our public library to read to me. The librarian said they didn't carry it because the author was a Socialist.
Just when you think times might change a little and people might possibly grow up, you hear about another school or library banning a book. Do the parents think that reading about disturbing things is worse than seeing your friends get shot at school or getting pregnant because they thought a candy-bar wrapper was as good as a condom? Or anything you see on the nightly news? I was raised by people who let me read anything I wanted, much of it beyond my child's comprehension, but still interesting because there were ideas there. It wasn't like I went out and got a hold of porn--though I did read some. Once the initial thrill about reading about SEX was gone, it wasn't that interesting and I moved on to other things.
I'm not a parent, but if I had a kid, I'd let it read. Ignorance is never the better option.
My husband & I have talked about this one a bunch, as we review our child-raising philosophies. (Trying to have a kid is one good motivation for having those talks.) We decided that anything that's on the shelves in our home, our kid will be welcome to read. We'll take a very few items off the shelf in planning (the tiny amount of pr0n we have), but we won't stress about it. Mostly we'll trust to the kid gravitating to age-appropriate reading (with allowances for precociousness, since both of us were precocious readers), with us available to talk to about anything.

No freakin' way would I ever presume to tell anybody else what they or their kids are allowed to read.

But I don't think I'd worry much if our kid (should we be so lucky as to have one, on this our last try at it) reads pr0n now and then. I mean, I read it thanks to you reprobates, and my brain hasn't rotted. It's my job to teach the kid in other ways, mostly through role-modeling with my husband, what a healthy relationship is like.
I remember getting in trouble in fourth grade for having a mass ppb called "The Second Son." [It must have been terri bly boring because the only pasage I remember in detail is where paramedics are talking about someone falling thirteen stories as a strawberry milkshake.]
But there I was, in trouble again, this time because of the book I happened to pick up on my way out the door. When they called my mom to tell her what I'd done, she replied that it was ok- everyone else in the family was already done with it. Go mom!
I always had everything everyone else was reading available to me as a child, my only limitation was vocabulary. I'd always hoped I would have been as cool when it was my turn.
Oh, Jebuz. That's it all right. Has to be from the cover.
Like I said, I didn't think it was all that. (Of course, subtler stuff might have gone right on past me at that age.) I can't imagine why these yokels are all in a flutter about it unless they're nepotistic or rabidly religious.