Miscellany, Reading

About Those Banned Books…

As a writer, book banning and book burning is anathema to me. I can’t understand why anyone has the right to determine what I can and cannot read. Heck, my mother had a terrible time reining me in as a kid. Banning a book is foolish for so many reasons, among them is they’ll just make a book more desirable, and you can’t kill an idea.

My first encounter with the concept of book banning was in a Mike Royko article “Ban It, Please,” where he semi-satirically begged the powers that be to ban his book because he knew it would increase sales. (See also, The Streisand Effect.) At the time, I was all of 11 years old and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to ban a book, and to be honest, I still can’t. If you don’t agree with the ideas, don’t read the book, and if it’s something your child is to read for school, discuss those ideas you find objectionable with your kid. You know, be a parent.

Since I am not as plugged into teen literature, I am not familiar with some of the books on the ALA’s Most Banned Books of 2020, at least not the top ones, but I’ve taught parts of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and all of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Looking at the reasons the books are objected to, they seem reasonable on the surface. There are racial slurs used in, say, To Kill A Mockingbird, but the point of them in the book is to highlight the racism behind the use, not endorse them, and a wise teacher will have a frank discussion around the use in the book. (The same holds true for Huck Finn.)

And looking at the top banned books in conjunction with the current ones, it’s clear that there are those who want to stomp out ideas. Why else would Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange be banned? Citing “drug use” and “violence” only serves to highlight the real objection: questioning society’s values. The same is true for the other books on the list–they all challenge preconceived notions and harmful societal norms.

Allowing these books–and the ideas behind them–be shelved, banned, or burned undermines one of our foundational freedoms, and in the end, won’t accomplish their stated goals. Ideas can’t be burned.

ALA’s graphic for 2020

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