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.

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