Real talk: On the banning of books

I love to read.

Obvious statement is obvious, of course, but it’s one that I believe bears repeating. Since I learned to read many, many, many years ago, I’ve read pretty much every book I could get my hands on. My fourth and fifth grade teachers still talk about how they had to make me put up my book during our weekly spelling tests.

There were two articles I read last week; both, coincidentally, involved author Neil Gaiman. Now, I feel like someone is going to revoke my nerd status for this next remark, but I have to clear the air her: Gaiman’s bestseller book, American Gods, is one of the few books I have never been able to finish. The story just did not captivate me the way I hoped it would.

There. I said it. Shun away, y’all.

(Also, if you’re not a reader but wondering why American Gods sounds familiar, it’s because it’s currently in development as a series for HBO).

However, an article popped up on my Twitter feed linking to a Guardian article about a lecture Gaiman gave recently in London. You can read the article in its entirety here, and I strongly recommend you do so — and yes, for those of you who are Facebook friends with me, I did post this on my wall last week.

There was one key point that ties into the next article, and it’s really such an amazing point that I want to highlight it here.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

Well-meaning adults… it’s those people I want to discuss now.

The other article I saw on Twitter last week referenced one of Gaiman’s other popular works, Neverwhere. The BBC recently produced an amazing podcast of the story featuring a veritable Who’s Who of British stars including James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, and Benedict Cumberbatch (available on iTunes, I believe).

A mother in Alamogordo, New Mexico, successfully petitioned the local school board to remove Neverwhere from a supplemental reading list at Alamogordo High School, where the book has been offered in the curriculum since 2004.

Why?

A single passage on page 86 which makes reference to two background characters engaging in public sex.

And just for the record, I would like to high five the English teacher at AHS who wrote this letter in response to the controversy. Rock on, Ms. Wallis!

Now, let me clear this up: I do not have kids. I don’t even have a dog. However, I don’t think it’s possible for me to state how strongly I am opposed to this sort of knee-jerk reaction from “well-meaning adults” when it comes to removing books from library shelves.

Story time! When I was in the eighth grade, a mother of one of my classmates petitioned the school board to remove several books from our junior high library shelf. While I’ve forgotten what the third book was, the other books were Detour for Emmy and The Color Purple — the former because it included a sexual scene, the latter because the book opens with a rape.

My thirteen year-old self was very outspoken against the campaign. I supported our school librarian, talked to my classmates and teachers about why the banning of books was wrong, and even wrote a letter to the editor of our local paper (my parents still have several copies in their office).

I didn’t believe — and I still don’t believe — that a few parents have the right to dictate what I can and cannot read. Nor do I feel that this mother in New Mexico has the right to deprive 100+ high schoolers of the opportunity to read Neverwhere. I was blessed with two amazing parents who pretty much let me read whatever I wanted to, but they were always there to talk about my literature choices with me.

My best friend’s parents wouldn’t allow her to read Harry Potter. We all know how much I adore those books. They weren’t my parents’ cup of tea, but they never tried to stop me from enjoying them. We had open discussions about witchcraft, magic, and faith — but not once did they take my books away from me.

Long story short: banning books is wrong. And in our society, it is baffling to me that this sort of thing is still going on. Take a stand, and read a banned book. Or you know, read a non-banned book.

The point is: read.

She had her nose in a book…

…And her head in the clouds.

For my last birthday, my wonderful family gifted me with a NOOK Color. After an initial period of resistance to the e-reader trend (I just love the heft of a book in my hands), I’d finally admitted that yes, I wanted the shiny.

And really, as much as I love books, I don’t have the room in my current home to store them. Books need room to breathe and stretch their arms, to be admired — I live in a shoebox (but a very nice shoebox at that).

Within two weeks of receiving my NOOK, I had read almost nine books — what can I say? I needed to catch up on The Hollows! And I can definitely see why my parents said “No NOOK until you finish grad school.”

Truth

While I’ve slowly been slogging along through A Song of Ice and Fire this summer (better known as the Game of Thrones books), I’ve had to pause my journey through Westeros to read a few books from my local library.

The conundrum for me: I have the first four George RR Martin books. They’re mine. But library books are mine for a finite amount of time — I have to read them right then and there! And yet, later I wonder why it’s taking me four months to get through A Clash of Kings.

Most of you who know me know that I have very… eclectic tastes. I’ve documented my love for fantasy and science fiction novels, but honestly? I’ll read most anything. Here are a few of my current reading/have read/to read selections:

Have read: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, better known as Kelly Kapoor from The Office, is hilarious. Her writing is self-deprecating, witty, and after finishing her book, I just want to be her best friend. It’s a super easy read that you’ll devour in less than a day. AND, she’s got her own show this fall on FOX called The Mindy Project — you can check out the trailer here.

Needless to say, I’ll definitely be tuning in!

Currently reading: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Okay, confession time. When I say “currently reading,” I mean that it’s loaded on my NOOK and I need to read it before I have to give it back to the library. But I’m starting it tonight, so progress! The Paris Wife tells the story of Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife, Hadley, and their life together in Paris during the Roaring Twenties.

Paris? The Lost Generation? Did I mention Paris? Yes, please.

To read: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh come on, y’all knew I had to have a fantasy book somewhere on this list (Game of Thrones notwithstanding). The Night Circus is the September book for the DC Theta alumni chapter Book Club — which I am going to make a concerted effort to go to next month!

In all honesty, I don’t know much about this book. But the blurb on the Barnes and Noble website makes it sound interesting, so I’ll give it a go.

And then, I might finally finish A Clash of Kings. >.>

Sound off! What are some of your favorite books and/or series? (And please remember, this is a 50 Shades of Grey-free blog — mention it not!)

Thank you, Mr. Potter

A preface:  If you have not read the last Harry Potter novel, please step away from the computer.  Bookmark this post and come back later.  I promise, I can wait.

Alright.  Spoilerphobes gone?  Good.

Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon.  I’m sure there are statistics as to how many copies of the books have been sold, how many languages they’ve been translated into, and how much money the films have grossed.  Honestly, I’m not an entertainment writer, and I don’t really care about all that.  This is what Harry Potter—both the books and the movies—have meant to me personally.

I’m a voracious reader.  I always have been, I always will be, and anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes can testify to that.  Right now, even, it’s a struggle to not pick up A Game of Thrones and start reading because I need to devote all my time and brainpower to my Independent Study paper.

Me. Only minus the singing Frenchmen and the future princess thing

August 8th.  It’s going down.

Ahem.  Sorry, where was I?

Yes.  Voracious reader, that I am.  Any books I could get my hands on, I devoured as fast as I could.  Seriously, I love love love to read.  My fourth and fifth grade teachers still like to remark that I was the only student they’d ever had who tried to read between questions on spelling tests.

I was eleven when I first discovered Harry Potter, which is a lovely bit of symmetry since Harry discovered his magical heritage at the age of eleven.   Scholastic was holding a Book Fair at my school, and for reasons I can’t recall, I had a coupon from one of my teachers for a free book.  This shouldn’t be surprising, but I loved when we had Book Fairs.  They were one of my favorite events of the school year, and I used to beg my mom for a little bit of extra money to get a new book.

But at this Book Fair, nothing was jumping out at me.  Nearly all the books there were either:  a) uninteresting, b) too juvenile, or c) I’d already read them.  Nothing looked like anything I would like—and considering I read just about every genre of book, that’s saying something.

Until I saw it.

Love

It was an unassuming paperback, and there were only two or three copies sitting on a table.  It wasn’t a skinny little book, but it wasn’t very large by my standards, either.  I picked it up, intrigued by the cover art—a boy on a broomstick, a cape flying behind him as he reached out for a little round ball.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the title proclaimed.

I had never heard of it.

Nevertheless, the back blurb sounded interesting, so I redeemed my coupon for that book and headed off to study hall.  Presumably, one was supposed to study during study hall, but I usually spent my time reading or drawing (funny, can I do that for a career?).

The first Harry Potter book was an easy, engaging read, and I quickly found myself engrossed in the world that JK Rowling had created.  Despite the teasing from my classmates—I was odd enough, and reading a book about a boy wizard made me even weirder, in their eyes—I kept on and quickly finished the first three books of the series (as they were the only ones out at the time).

Flash forward one year, and two things happened simultaneously.  One, our Reading teacher announced we were going to read the first two Harry Potter books in class.  (My junior high self was thinking, ‘Yeah, who’s weird now?  Huh?  Huh?’)

And two, the first book was going to be made into a movie.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened after.  The mania that set in, the midnight book releases with costumes and role playing, or the way that the world of Harry Potter took our world—the Muggle world—by storm.

As I grew older, I remember begging my parents to drive me to the Sam’s Club in Knoxville the day each new book was released.  (As a warehouse store, I knew that Sam’s would always have enough copies, and there would be no need to reserve one or stand in line).  I specifically remember picking up the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, on the way home from a cattle show.   It nearly killed me, but I resolved not to start reading until we’d arrived home, and I was able to get all the dirt and other unsavory barn things off my hands.

I remember where I was when Dumbledore died (4-H Roundup at UTK, summer of 2005).  My poor roommate—who didn’t read the books—probably thought I was crazy, lying on the bed with tears streaming down my cheeks as I turned those last few pages.

I cried when Hedwig died.

Mad-Eye Moody.

Remus and Tonks.

Snape.

Fred Weasley.

I know it may sound ridiculous to some—meaning my mother, mostly—to cry over the death of fictional characters.  But the beauty of JKR’s world was, they didn’t seem fictional at all.  As I’d grown up, they’d grown up as well.  While I know their world doesn’t exist, her words painted such a vivid picture in my mind that, while I read, it was easy to suspend disbelief and think that it all was real.

My best friends think I’m nuts.  They don’t understand how I can be so devoted to a series of books, for crying out loud.  And you know, all I can say is this:  if you’ve never been swept away in something grander than yourself, never let your imagination run away with you because of the written word, then I pity you.

Harry Potter is more than just a series of books.  It’s more than just a set of eight films.  It’s a part of my childhood, something I’ve loved dearly since I was little, and something I’m sure that I will continue loving for the rest of my life.  I know that what it means to me pales in comparison to what it means to others—the actors, for example, and JKR herself—but it is what it is.  If by some stroke of luck, I ever have a piece of fiction published, I can only hope that it is a fraction as well-received as JRK’s illustrious work.

So for the next week, I’ll continue on much as I have for the past little while. I’ll work, and I’ll go home and write my Independent Study paper and work on my Capstone project.  I’ll stress about my job search, and I’ll look forward to seeing my family again in August.

But next Thursday night, I’m going to suspend my stress and worries.  I’m going to leave grad school at home.  I’m going to pull down my green and silver scarf out of the attic—even though it’s about 98 degrees in D.C.—and I’m going to the midnight showing of the final Harry Potter film.  I’ll probably sob like a small child, but it’s warranted.  As the movie posters have proclaimed for the past year, “It all ends here.”

After almost thirteen years, it's really over.

So thank you, Jo Rowling, for sharing with us your genius.  Thank you for giving us Mr. H. Potter of Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging.  Thank you to all the actors for bringing this world to life on screen for all of us to see.  And thank you to everyone else who had a hand in this rich and fantastic world.

And thank you, Mr. Potter.  Thank you for being my friend.