This week is Banned Book Week. I have to admit I’ve never met a book I thought should be banned. I’ve read many books that were banned at one point or another and always came away disappointed. You see when my folks would get me a ‘banned’ book I thought there HAD to be something exciting and salacious about it to earn such a dubious honor. Then I read Grapes of Wrath, Catcher In The Rye, The Great Gatsby, 1984, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Clockwork Orange, and so on… I came away with great stories but nothing so salacious that I saw any reason to ban it. At first being a skeptical high schooler I thought maybe parents got together and banned it to make teenagers want to read good literature. Then I thought maybe it was banned as a marketing gimmick. Finally I came to the sad realization that no these books were banned because there are people out there who want to control our thoughts. They want to decide what’s okay to write and thus think about and what’s not. They are under the delusion if you don’t look at stuff you don’t like it’ll go away.
No it all seriousness as a reader let alone a writer I want to choose what I read. Sometimes I read books that make me feel very uncomfortable because I need to experience life that isn’t as good as my well cared for middle class existence. It all comes back to what I always to told my son, “We are here to take care of one another.” Good things can happen when you are rattled, challenged to look beyond your safe box of thought. That’s what a good book does. It opens a world beyond the one I know and am comfortable. As a writer I can think of no higher praise than changing someone’s perspective about the world by simply putting words on the page. It goes to prove the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword.
So this week read dangerously. Look through the various lists of banned books, here’s a few to get you started: Banned Books That Changed America, 100 Most Frequently Banned Books by Decade, and let’s go to Wikipedia for a List of Books Banned by Governments. So look through find one you are curious about, get a copy, and make up your own mind.
If the act of banning a book concerns you I refer you to the American Library Association’s page about book challenges and banning. There are books I find offensive. There are books I find just awful – bad story structure, bad writing, or something just weak and boring. However I have never met a book I thought should be banned. If a book effects you talk about it to others start a conversation on why you were offended, shocked, touched, inspired by the work. Let others read and decide for themselves about issues. Let’s discuss ideas not suppress them.