Sunday, May 2, 2010

What Happens When You Ban Books?

Before my daughter went to Azerbaijan, she came to visit me. As soon as she saw me, she pinned a button on my coat that she was sporting on her own: “I Read Banned Books”. Then she said, “Mom, I recently looked at the list of banned books and realized I had read them all because of you. Thanks.”
 As a librarian and a dedicated believer in the First Amendment, I was happy and pleased. And then, I began to think about what it meant to have my children read books that others thought were damaging. What if I was wrong? What if reading those books had damaged them in some way?

A review of the list of banned books created by the American Library Association and cataloged by Wikipedia ( relieved me of my worries. How could have deprived them of reading Hemingway, Orwell, Twain, Blume, Angelou, Faulkner, Morrison, Golding, Lawrence, Baldwin, Walker, Cormier, Steinbeck, and Mitchell? A favorite book for the girls was The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – they bought copies for all of their friends as Christmas presents.

If I had not insured they read these books, we would not have had discussions about utopias and dystopias, child abuse, superiority, self-esteem, survival, anti-Semitism, religion, spiritually, and of course sex. At the age of nine, I bought the girls What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madras, only to discover it had been banned from a high school library in Alaska! That was our first discussion about banned books.

In high school, I took entire advanced placement questions on Hemingway and Faulkner. I found Walker’s and Baldwin’s books giving me a taste of the black society I did not know. Maya Angelou and Richard Wright brought me to tears, letting me develop my feeling of empathy.

I worked for a public library in central Oregon at one point. The Harry Potter books were published while I was there and I sent them to my grandson. My [step] daughter called me, excited because her son was finally reading. The county I lived in, however, had the first lawsuit asking for Harry Potter to be banned from the public schools. Meanwhile, the seniors asked me to organize a discussion group where they could discuss why such a book would be banned.

One day, while I was working circulation, a woman with a son about nine years old, asked if she could attend the discussion group. I urged her to please come. She told me that she might not be wanted because it was her husband who had filed the lawsuit for banning. What I remember most was the frown on her face and the light in her son’s eyes. She did not attend the meeting.

For me, when you do not let your children read banned books, you lose opportunities to help them grow. You engage in an unconstitutional practice. You act out of fear. And those are something of which I could not have deprived my children – or myself.

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