Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week: What It Means to Ban a Book

OK, I'm back.  Last week's comparative silence was brought to you courtesy of my finishing a draft of my current novel.  (Huzzah!)  I had a lot going on in non-writing life, and a lot going on in the revision, which was finally sailing right along, and had to do some very creative scheduling just to cope with that.  No time left for blogging.

This is Banned Books Week, in which the American Library Association urges us all to consider banned books and what they mean to our society. 

Banning books is not about liking or disliking a book.  There are plenty of books I don't and won't read, based upon my personal preferences and idiosyncratic issues.  I don't read rape books.  I strenuously avoid books in which small children die.  I didn't read Fifty Shades of Grey because ewww, and while I did read Between Shades of Grey (totally different book!) I'll only do it once because who has that much emotional stamina?  Anne Rice creeps me out; Danielle Steele is a hack; I like bodice-rippers but only if they're well-written; I think Nicholas Evans sucks.  You're free to disagree. 

Banning books is not about someone else deciding what your children can read.  It's really not.  This is where parents get all up in arms, because sometimes schools assign books parents feel are inappropriate for their children.  And sometimes, based upon the children, they are.  I've never invoked the opt-out clause for what my own children read in school, but I did one time invoke it when my daughter's third-grade teacher wanted to show the class the movie The Passion of the Christ.  (In this case, I actually did kibosh the movie for the whole class, by gently inquiring if the school had a policy about showing rated R movies.  Turns out they did.  But I was just curious.  Mostly, I wanted my daughter, who's very visually sensitive anyhow, to not watch any part of that movie.)  Nearly every school has an opt-out clause for assigned readings; teachers will assign a different book if parents ask them to.  As for books from public libraries--if you don't want your child to read something, tell them you won't let them.  Easy.

Banning books is about one person deciding what an entire community can or can not read.  When you challenge a school, library, or bookstore's right to carry or assign a book, you're saying, "I don't want to read this, and I don't want anyone else to be able to read it, either." It's censorship, straight up.  It violates our First Amendment rights to free speech and free expression. 

That's why it's a big deal.  Look, I get the part about protecting your children.  I had a four-year-old who read voraciously at fourth-grade level, and it was a struggle for several years to find her enough books to make her happy while avoiding those that were emotionally way over her head.  You are allowed at any time to forbid your child reading something.  You are not allowed to forbid mine.  Or me, for that matter.  Cheerio.