The first week of October is Banned Books Week, a title I can hardly type without cringing. It evokes images crowds of hate- and rage-filled people tossing much-beloved classics into a mountain of flaming hardcovers and soft covers. It sours my stomach and makes me want to cry.
As a reader, I don’t love every book I read. I don’t enjoy every genre and every voice. And I certainly don’t agree with every author’s point of view. I do uphold every author’s right to craft his or her thoughts and beliefs into a story for others to read, enjoy, and maybe learn from.
As an author, my goal is to entertain and every once in a while to make people think. I don’t expect every reader to enjoy what I write or agree with my point of view. But I uphold my right to voice my thoughts and weave them into my stories. I always hope to achieve my goals, and I keep working on my craft when I don’t.
What I don’t understand is why some have to impose their beliefs on everyone else.
Barnes & Nobles’ list of challenged and banned books includes classics from my high school’s mandatory summer reading list—titles like J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Did I enjoy those books? Not so much. (Even back then I liked happy endings.) I remember being intrigued by Salinger’s voice, repelled by Golding’s characters, and horrified by the bigotry and hate in Lee’s society.
Going to the children’s list, I was shocked to see award-winning stories like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, beloved collections like Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, and historically important voices like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. (Really?)
As a parent, I exercised my right to check what books my kids were reading. My older son borrowed every nonfiction book on military aircraft in the school library before moving on to history. My younger son emptied the dinosaur collection, then turned to fantasy. They’re grown now, and their interests haven’t changed. While I didn’t share their reading preferences (and still don’t!), I’m so glad they had the opportunity to choose for themselves.
I also volunteered in their elementary school’s library. One time I picked up a book about a dog who was being tortured. It was graphic and cruel, and it made me sick. I brought it to the librarian’s attention and suggested it was too gruesome for children of that age. She disagreed and the book went back on the shelf. I still don’t understand her point of view, but I respected it then, and I do now.
Other lists of banned books, like this from Readers Digest, contain books relevant to today’s social issues, titles that deal with sexuality and gender, and I understand parents who want to reserve certain topics for home and parental discussions. But I also understand the need to have those discussions and for kids to be exposed to another’s point of view and experience.
That’s what books do. They open up a world of experiences and thoughts we might never have on our own. They take us to places and times we’ll never have a chance to visit. They inspire and encourage us to broaden our viewpoints. They challenge and chasten our long-held beliefs and prejudices. They help us to grow.
So what are we doing with these lists? Why are we so afraid of another’s point of view?
I don’t get it. I never will. I can only hope that reason will return.