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I Read Banned Books Button

This week is Banned Books Week, as sponsored by the American Library Association.  According to the ALA,

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I am systematically opposed to any sort of banning, whether it is music, books, media, or other news sources.  No one has the right to tell others what they can or cannot read or watch or listen to, except maybe parents, but even that gets into fuzzy territory after a certain age.  The furor over the movie release of The DaVinci Code or The Golden Compass are great examples.  In both cases, the Catholic Church came out condemning the movies.  My own mother called me to tell me that not only should I not let my children see The Golden Compass, I was not to allow him to read the books because they are anti-Catholic books, and we are a practicing Catholic family.  Um…I don’t think so. If anything, my son has a right to make his own decisions regarding religion and should read both anti-religious and religious literature in an effort to get the entire picture.  For when we allow our children to read controversial books, we can open a dialogue with them and carry on an adult conversation about the controversies.  This is how we all grow and learn as humans, no matter what our age.

Book Cover Image: Looking for Alaska by John Green

My first book that I will be reading this week is Looking for Alaska by John Green.  A winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, this book was challenged in 2008 for concerns about graphic language and sexual content.  Specifically, an eleventh-grade English class in New York had to get parental permission to read this award-winner, with three parents denying their child permission.  The website SafeLibraries has a detailed explanation about why this book is challenged, complete with a list of the words and specific quoted scenes, actually going so far as to descry this work as pornography for children.

I did finish the book this afternoon and will be reviewing it later this week, but I find it interesting that while my nine-year-old can listen to similar conversations while sitting on the bus to and from school every day, he is expected to be oblivious to such words and scenarios in literature.  Would I allow him to read this book right now?  I would ask him to wait until he was older.  The book is not marketed for nine-year-olds and he cannot relate with the main characters, who are at least seven years older than him.  However, will I prevent him from reading it in a few years if he wants to do so?  Absolutely not because it does deal with certain difficult situations and has a great message about life that should be passed along to others.  Therein lies the problem with banning or challenging books: by focusing on the language or sexual scenes in such books, people who challenge books miss the overall message of such books.

So, the next time someone descries a book for being obscene or pornographic or inappropriate, ask them what the point of the book is.  I guarantee that the point of the book is not the sex scenes or the language.  And if it is, then why is that message so important.  For in understanding why an author writes a book, we learn more about human nature and about life.

Image: Signature Block
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