I must say, I’m addicted banned books. Maybe it is because when I read one, it’s like giving the middle finger to all those who try to place restrictions on literature. Banning books in schools is something that I never understood. I’m privileged to have gone to a school district, where during my tenure, there were no literary restrictions. While my school’s libraries were structured to conform to the reading and age level of students, I cannot recall any books within those levels ever being labeled as “banned”.
This was something that I took for granted. In my naivety, I did not realize the gift that was bestowed in going to a school district that didn’t really ban books. The first “adult” book that I ever read was Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. They day I discovered this book is forever burned in my memory. My school district’s middle school was 6th through 8th grade, and on the first day of school in 1994, a lucky band of new 6th graders were having school orientation. One of the first stops was the library. As the librarian was giving us a tour of the vast shelves of books and card catalogues, I spied on a shelf a white paperback with the trademark T-rex skeleton silhouette. Before I even read the title, I knew what the book was. The breath caught in my throat. Up until this point I had no clue that this specific book even existed. The only knowledge I had of Crichton was that he helped write the screenplay to the Jurassic Park movie. How could I not have known that he wrote a book that the movie was based upon? (note: this was an era before the Internet) With pure euphoria, I snatched the book off the shelf, checked it out, and devoured it the moment I made it home that afternoon.
Thinking back on that time in middle school with this specific book, by the standards of what is considered a “banned book”, Jurassic Park should have been listed. But at my school district it wasn’t. As a 6th grader, I had full access to read it any time it was available. It existed along with a plethora of other books that helicopter parents and censorship leaders normally deem as “demoralizing” and “disturbing”.
To this day, Jurassic Park is my most read book. And honestly, the content, at least during the 90’s, was very mature: visceral slashing of Velociraptor claws across fleshy human abdomens, crunching of bodies by the mighty jaws of a T-rex, the processes of being eaten alive. Even the “F-bomb” was thrown into some strands of dialogue here and there. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s, we were not wholly privy to this kind of violence or language. It existed, we were exposed to it in moderation, but not like today where it appears in every day commercials and TV shows. Children today are much more desensitized to these things, and yet they are the one who are having literature stringently banned.
My senior year of high school, in regards to the literary world, was eye opening. It was during that time that I realized the brevity of the “book banning” situation that was being more strictly introduced in school systems across the United States. It disgusted me, especially as a girl who was on the cusp of adulthood. To an extent, I do understand not wanting certain pieces of literature due to violence / language / sex to be available for certain age levels of children. However, the idea of this type of literature from being inaccessible to older teenagers is, quite frankly, ludicrous. These teenagers are about to become young adults and move on with their lives, away from controlling school systems.
I don’t give my school district a lot of credit, however, in regards to literature during my tenure, there was no better place to attend. And truly it was due to the English department, more specifically my senior AP English teacher. This was a woman born of books and literature coursed through her blood. She loved the written word so much, that she was inspired to create and produce a High School musical production of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This is the teacher who gleefully gave us 1984, Brave New World, Catch 22, The Catcher in the Rye, Siddhartha, The Sound and the Fury to read and dissect without giving any regard to the content of the stories. Sadly, these specific books rarely grace the halls of schools today as they are at the top of the banned list. It is such a shame these stunning, inspirational, and poetic works are being withheld from students.
Earlier this week, in the LA Times, I read an article “The most banned and challenged books of 2014“. Needless to say, this article sent me spiraling into a rant that is today’s post. After a few days of grumbling, spewing, and cursing, I have finally calmed myself enough to eloquently write about my dissatisfaction of banning literature.
This is the 21st century and by some unrelenting force, we are being pushed back to what seems to be a “Victorian” era. Why, in this age of expansive knowledge and technology, are books being banned in public schools? The specific books listed in that LA Times article absolutely floored me. First off all of those books, when read at the appropriate age level, are perfectly acceptable. There is not one thing in those books that cannot be found on television at any hour of the day. Granted the comic book Saga has illustrations that are sexually explicit and should not be seen by anyone under 18. I agree it is not “school” material. However, that being said, listing a reason for Saga’s ban is due to “anti-family” values is extreme. If the censors are going to make that claim, then remove every one of Shakespeare’s plays from school textbooks, because the context of Saga is purely Shakespearean with a sci-fi twist. The relationship of Alana and Marco in Saga are, in a way, a futuristic Romeo and Juliet without the suicide (at least as of issue #23 there is no dual suicide. I am a little behind in reading). The family lifestyle of these two couples have many similarities, yet Romeo and Juliet is allowed in schools with its anti-family values (and double teenage suicides) while Saga has this category marked against it. Also, just to add fuel to the fire, Shakespeare’s work is so laced with tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendos that it, to a point, out does any graphic sexual imagery in the Saga comic art.
This post isn’t meant to be a dissection on why certain literature is allowed and other literature is not, but merely a statement to ask “Where does the line get drawn?” if schools are going to continue this extreme banning of books. In my opinion, there will never be a line. More and more of these precious works will be banned for the most insignificant nuances because one parent is so upset that a book contains a lesbian or a Goddess or drug use or the word “damn” or someone farts.
Let’s stop this and stop it now. Libraries in schools should be an area of freedom where any book, given the students age and reading level, is available for his or her reading pleasure. Does it matter if the book contains magic or dinosaurs or homosexual parents or a single mom or an abducted teenager? NO! If you don’t want your child reading these kinds of books, then be a parent and tell your child what they are or are not allowed to read. Other children should not have to suffer and have Harry Potter taken away from them because one child’s parents doesn’t want to see magical world of Hogwarts appear in their child’s school.
I once had a dream and wanted to be able to say that I had a publication that made the banned book list. It would have been a badge of honor, but I am changing that tune. It is not what I want anymore. My new dream is to see the ban of books in schools eliminated.
I hope I never make a banned book list, because I no longer want the ban on books to exist.
Mark you calendars: Banned Books Week is September 27- October 15, 2015. Make sure you celebrate the freedom to read!