Banned Book Week is swiftly nearing its end and I realized that I hadn't yet discussed my views on the practice of banning books. Those of you who read this blog on a normal basis know that I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and that I am a huge proponent of free thought and critical thinking. Therefore, it will come as no shock that I am appalled by the notion that there are books that aren't fit to read.
As much as I may not like/disagree with a book, I'll be damned if I ever tell someone that they can't read it. I think that Twilight has as much of a right to be read as Dracula and that Mein Kampf deserves its place in historical narratives right alongside The Diary of Anne Frank. As someone who is trained as a historian, I see the benefit of reading books that share your perspective as well as books that go against everything you've ever held dear. Reading shouldn't always be comfortable. Books that make you feel good are great, but books that shock you or make you uncomfortable or present ideas that you don't agree with help you to grow as a person.
"But the children, Gabe," they say (whoever they are). "Think of the children." Contrary to what they might think, I am thinking of the children. My children, to be precise. While I'm not currently a parent, I will be someday and I don't need to worry about anybody else's kids but my own. That's not to say that I wouldn't help a drowning toddler or mentor a troubled teenager that didn't share my DNA. What I mean is that when it comes to deciding what is or is not appropriate reading material (or movies or video games or music), I'm only going to be thinking about what I feel is appropriate for my kids. I don't care what you tell your kids they can or can't read, just don't tell mine.
I'm the kind of person who wants to raise my kids to be intelligent, open-minded, critical thinkers who are accepting of other people's differences. I want them to be well-educated on sexuality, religion, culture, and the issues that affect people all over the world like hunger, oppression, inequality, and sexism. I want their teachers and librarians to be free to assign books that will make them uncomfortable, that will make them think, and that will let them grow. What I don't want is some over-bearing mother who has never even met my child to decide that she doesn't like a book and therefore no one can read it.
People who get offended by language, sex, and violence in books aren't doing kids any good by challenging or banning them. All they're doing is avoiding discussing sensitive topics with their own children and making other kids miss out on what could have been a wonderful reading experience. Obviously if any books were banned at my child's school I would let him or her read them at home if they so chose. But the principle of the matter is that when books are banned, it teaches kids that there are good things to read and bad things to read and that they should only read good things. It makes them afraid to branch out and read things that they want to. It teaches them to live in a box instead of thinking outside of it.
The list of banned books is extensive. Some of the greatest books ever written have found their way onto that list, which tells me that these books are doing their job. They're making people uncomfortable. They're making people think. It's just sad that some people reject that as being bad.
Books that deal with homosexuality, magic, rape, religious themes, and the like deserve to be read alongside all of the fluffier books that some parents only want their kids reading. We are a diverse world with lots of different people who hold lots of different beliefs. What is so wrong about teaching our children how to be accepting of difference? What is so horrible about wanting kids to grow up being able to say that they broke out of their parents' worldview and developed their own? The answer is: nothing. Maybe someday people will see it that way, but for now we celebrate banned books because we know that raising awareness of people's intolerance and, dare I say it, stupidity is important if we want to reshape the world into a place where all people can feel free and equal.