It’s banned books week, in lower case letters, because it’s my blog. Here’s a link:
This is one of the issues where I think libraries do a huge disservice to society. The main premise of Banned Books Week is to celebrate those books that have been challenged or banned in various theaters of reading, usually schools. The week also supports a more general freedom of reading, writing, expression, etc. Unfortunately, they make little to no discrimination between books that are worthwhile and books that are not. It often seems as if the assumption is that all books are of equal value within the library. Now, books of various kinds have had equal opportunity to touch lives, I’ll say that. But some books really shouldn’t have been made at all, and shouldn’t have such a huge proportion of our civilized readership wasting their time on them. BUT. The more important issue is that people must have the choice, they must be able to choose or they are simply programmable automatons. I fully believe in choice, even when it results in bad choice. It saddens me to see movies and books that have no value in them attracting people like flies. It scares me how certain kinds of media develop the need for them while at the same time providing the product. It’s an addictive culture and business, which is philosophical yuck.
There is no well drawn line where a book crosses into such filth that it is a blight on society not only to those who read it, but all those who come into contact with said reader who has such ideas and perspectives sloshing around in their brain. It can be argued that staying away from the boundary of quicksand is better than toeing the line asking to be sucked into the morass. There is some truth to the idea that what will affect one person badly may not affect another in the same way. I guess if I am using the same imagery, then some wouldn’t survive the quicksand while others would. But at some point we pass beyond experience and maturity issues and into processed addictive dehumanizing sludge. You know, spiritual quicksand.
Here is my main point why I resist the whole celebration of Banned Books Week: nutrition. I’ll get back to this soon. I have other paths yet to ramble.
Recently I watched a neat video of Neil Gaiman discussing stories, storying, and other cool stuff. He also discussed the idea of stopping books from being read- whether by banning or by parents censoring what their children read. He made it sound so bad. He called it ‘snobbery’. He did admit that when a child enjoyed R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books he felt the need to introduce the child to Stephen King. The result was the child switched to reading prairie settler books and other safer stuff because the King book had been too much for them. Gaiman laughed about that, but I wondered how much trust had been lost by offering King to a young mind. And in his entire speech, no where did he ever raise the word ‘standards’. It was all about making all books equally available to all children as though both books and children had no individuality. He made it sound as if disagreeing with him was laughable.
The fact is, I sometimes fought our school on certain books. I had standards. I also knew my children, knew how I was raising them, knew their readiness levels, and so on. All the librarian knew was her rules, which went something very much like this: at library time you must check out a book, it must come from the shelves approved for your grade, you must check out a different book each time, you could not check out the same book more than once, etc. My child read several books, then started coming across ones she didn’t feel ready for. Some she knew I didn’t allow. Eventually she brought one home because she was required to check it out, and I looked it over and told her not to read it. She was relieved.
In contrast, she was never corralled by the plentiful book shelves in her classroom, and she read and reread many books there. She felt safer. Her teacher praised her repeatedly. She discovered Treasure Island there. Also Robin Hood.
This is the thing: at the library she was maneuvered into having to check out a book, practically requiring it while not in actuality requiring it, and she was subjected to a weekly sense of being sent through a cattle chute. A cattle chute, if you don’t know, starts out as a wide corral, but as the cattle get moved along inside it to one opening only, it gets narrower and narrower until they have no choice but to walk a certain direction, face a certain direction, and eventually get caught in the narrowest part so cowboy folks can do cow medicine and other things to them. She had felt like she was being maneuvered, even at the elementary age, and had wanted to resist but also wanted to be good and follow the rules. So we had a long talk then, and later, and later, and later again, about how we have to be a little discrete in our rebellion, but there are options like civil disobedience and other things that usually other groups claim a monopoly on.
It comes down to this: standards. We have them. Other people have theirs. Some people appear to have none. But I don’t hear from the ALA about people who wish to not read a banned book. They may consider this a non issue, but it becomes an issue when a book that people want to ban is now an assignment, and an adult authority figure is telling a child that they must read it. Where is the freedom in that? This isn’t happening all that often as yet, but it is beginning to. There is a good chance that this tendency will become a trend (a more likely trend than burning books, too). And if a person opposes it, they risk being branded (remember the cattle chute?) as an oppressor of freedom; a possibly rabid book banner; an anal screeching jack booted monkey hovering over their wicked hellish bonfire while pages float up in the air as so much forlorn ash. Such a sad, sad image, and it makes people angry, which can be useful.
I do not propose banning books. I honestly would like that some had never been written. I also support the freedom to choose not to read certain books. This is where people think I’m a goose, but that’s ok. Let me bring in the nutrition argument. As a parent, as a person, I want to choose good healthy food for my family and for myself. Sure, we like our junk food, and we like dessert. We also absolutely love home made chicken noodle soup or oatmeal bread or cheese muffins or broccoli or carrots or tangerines. The healthy food is more important. The snacks are ok in wise measure. There is no place in our diet for gravel, manure, broken glass, heroin, nuclear waste, etc. It is obvious to most of society that a wise and responsible parent must make choices for good nutrition when considering what will go into the bodies of their children. So why not be aware and careful when we are feeding their young minds?
Freedom is important. Unfortunately, bad choices exist out there. Fortunately, I have avoided most of the really bad ones. Because I had the freedom.
That is what Banned Books Week means to me.
Here is a list of some of our favorite books:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia, by Lewis
The Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Dandelion Wine, by Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451, by Bradbury
(and others by him)
Beauty, by Robin McKinley
Rose Daughter, by McKinley
(and others by her)
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
the Brother Cadfael series, by Ellis Peters
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir A. Conan Doyle
Hitch Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley
Many books by George MacDonald
Many by Agatha Christie
Numerous biographies, historical accounts, and a few political books
and many, many more.
(Sometimes as a kid I would just flip open a dictionary and start reading)
(I could find my favorite parts of the encyclopedias before I could read)
(Sometimes in college after a hard day’s study I couldn’t handle anything stronger than Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. I once read a news editor complaining how college students loved their cartoons, so he had obviously forgotten what college was like)
(I’m a strong supporter of decent comic books and graphic novels. One series that is a favorite here is the Akiko series by Mark Crilley)
(Porn is to books what cocaine is to honest medicine)
(Don’t tell me that if a majority likes something, then it has a right to exist. If the majority makes a bad choice, it only makes the bad choice more supported, it does not give it value)
(There are not enough pictures of books in the world for me)