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Banning books (or trying to) is nothing new in America. Parents become outraged and want books of “questionable” material removed from libraries and, so they think, the hands of their innocent children. First, allow me a moment to snicker at the idea of children these days being innocent over the age of 10 (and I’m being generous with that). Okay, I’ve gotten my snicker out of the way and now it’s on to more serious business.
There are a few terms that might confuse someone if they aren’t familiar with them, because I love books, ALL books, even the bad ones (I’m looking at you Fifty Shades of Grey) and I detest the idea of one person trying to choose what another person reads or is able to read. Reading is a privilege, a right and a joy! I would not be the writer/person/weirdo I am today if I hadn’t been able to read whatever I wanted to read when I was a kid. My parents never restricted my reading and I can remember reading Stephen King at 11 or 12, Jackie Collins around 13 and tons of stuff that the folks who want to ban books would be horrified about. Gosh, I read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying when I was 14 I think and I remember be scandalized at some of her ideas…but also inspired.
What Does It Mean To Ban or Challenge A Book?
There are two things that a person intent on interfering with the right to free speech can do. They can challenge a book or ask for a book to be banned. What’s the difference? Is a challenge where the person against the book and the book itself face off in a duel of wits? If so, my money’s on the book honestly.
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.
This is heartening to read for a book lover/nerd/geek like me because librarians are the stewards of a lot of our school libraries and other collections. They supposedly became a librarian because they had a love of book that made them want to be around them all the time. I have mad respect for librarians and I enjoy libraries, they’re such peaceful, beautiful places that simply smell…well, if you go to the library, you know the smell of delicious old books!
Banning Books and Concerned Parents/Parental Groups
The fact is, parents and other “concerned” groups challenge books pretty much all the time. I came across a story about a group of concerned parents who wanted to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye because it contained material unsuitable for children under the age of 18. By whose standards exactly? As I said above, I was reading stuff that according to these parents, would have been unsuitable for my delicate eyes.
One of the books being questioned is called ‘The Bluest Eye’ by award-winning author Toni Morrison – about a young African-American girl after the Great Depression – and deals with issues including racism, incest and child molestation. – NBC-2.com
The fact is, The Bluest Eye does contain explicit and potentially upsetting material. That’s kind of the point of the book. It’s also meant to portray a life that many will (luckily) never know but that’s the thing about books, they transport you, for good or bad, into the shoes of another person. They teach you stuff. Sometimes the stuff is really great (like in books like The Wizard of Oz or The Hobbit) and you are transported to a wonderful place that you wish with all your heart was real. Sometimes the books take you to a horrible place you never want to visit (like The Stand or Fifty Shades of Grey or The Road by Cormac McCarthy). Even the books that horrify you are teaching you something. They’re teaching you about your own likes and dislikes, they’re teaching you about who you are.
Does this mean that I want a 5-year-old reading about sex and violence? No. Would I ban the book to keep them away from it? No. I would be a concerned and involved parent and I would KNOW what my 5-year old was reading (wait, do 5-year olds read?)…same goes for an 8-year-old or older. I think banning books is toeing the line to burning them and we cannot allow that happen. I mean heck, I don’t ever throw books away, they are always donated or sold if I no longer want them- which is not really something that happens. My books are my friends and I treasure them, they comfort me and sometimes they overwhelm me, especially when my “To Be Read” pile is a huge stack taller than I am!
FYI, The Bible was banned in the USSR from 1926 – 1956. The BIBLE for pete’s sake! Add to that the fact that Dr. Seuss’ beloved classic (yes, I said DR. SEUSS), Green Eggs and Ham was banned in China from 1965 – 1991 for its portrayal of Marxism (click here for more crazy book banning facts). You can tell that anything can get banned for a period of time if it is deemed “offensive” by parties in power. That’s what makes it so scary, I mean, there are kids in China who didn’t get to learn about green eggs and ham! Seriously though, it seems arbitrary what books get banned and it’s offensive to me in a lot of ways. Not to mention, it is all about perceived opinions, not fact.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees our right to free speech, which includes the right to read and write books that might be considered by some to be too violent, hateful, or offensive. Because this freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans, some people feel that any form of censorship is wrong. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, believing that people should be free to read whatever they choose, but that in some rare instances censorship is acceptable.
According to the ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano, “Not every book is right for every person, but providing a wide range of reading choices is vital for learning, exploration, and imagination. The abilities to read, speak, think, and express ourselves freely are core American values.”
Some people feel that schools, libraries, and governments should be the judge of what books are good for kids. Others believe that kids or their parents should have the freedom to decide for themselves, and shouldn’t have others’ viewpoints imposed on them. –Infoplease.com
That last point is what really speaks to me, it shouldn’t be up to the government, the library or even schools to decide what is right or wrong for someone to read. It should be up to the kids parents, plain and simple. A parent’s job is to look out for the welfare of their children, this means keeping an eye on their internet usage, their Smartphone usage and what they read. It’s about being involved in their life.
That being said, just because a parent doesn’t like a book for their kid, does not mean it should be banned from a library. What one kid shouldn’t read, another probably should. Book banning is a symptom of a much larger disease, a much larger sickness in the culture, where a few try to decide the rights of everyone and that, dear readers, is not okay.
Fight For Your Books!
Book banning has been with the world for as long as any other oppressive force. It doesn’t appear to be going away but what stops it from becoming truly insidious is that people stand up for the books, they stand up for free speech and that even if a book gets banned, it still finds a way to get to the people who need it most and that’s what really matters.
What do YOU think? Is book banning done with good intentions? Are the parents crazy to even bother? Should they simply become more involved? Tell me what you think in the comments!