Friday, October 05, 2007

Banned Books...Keep Your Fire to Yourself

Rebel isn’t my middle name, but I do on occasion like to push the envelope. So why would I have been any different in my youth…other than the fact that I wasn’t quite a nerd, nor quite a jock and yet had an affinity for English. So in other words when book reports were dished out my junior year of high school I decided that I didn’t want a lame book (most likely cause I’d already read it) so I picked a book off the banned list, which meant I had to get permission from my parents (as in my mom, who I remind you isn’t a reader). So I got the legalities straightened out and stood holding the CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger in my hot little hands. Now I honestly couldn’t tell you what the book was about, but I do still recall being shocked at some of the situations and language. But what I recall the most is how achingly sad I felt for the hero, Holden.

Since then I’ve read some of the other “hot” titles including: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain (I soaked in every word in Lit class in college), THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (which I tackled way back in middle school), AWAKENING by Kate Chopin (the subject of one of my most brilliant papers in college), CANDIDE by Voltaire (which was required for my European Lit class), I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by Maya Angelou (a “requirement” for Southern Women’s Lit), MADAME BOVARY by Gustave Flaubert (another title from English Lit that intrigued me), MOLL FLANDERS by Daniel Defoe (which I think we touched on in a class, but I liked so much I picked up the DVD), LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER by D.H. Lawrence (sometime in college during my 3rd year), LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding (which we debated for weeks in high school), and THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I never forgot the imagery of Hester bearing that A).

As I look at the recent BANNED lists I see one called GOSSIP GIRLS ranked in the top five and has just hit the small screen as a must-watch for teens. I gave #4 (THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS) to my sister for a birthday present. No that wasn’t a silent joke about her rear-end :0) But I guess I was spreading the anarchy.

For a while, I thought I’d talk about Harry Potter’s prevalence in the “challenged books” list, but have since decided that my explanation to my friend (whose hubby thinks the whole franchise will destroy her Christian beliefs) is sufficient venting on that topic. Besides lots of other writers have already weighed in with their 2 cents worth, so you don’t really need mine to add to the penny pile.

But I will say that the whole subject of banned books boils down to perception. Anyone can find something wrong with any book if they work hard enough at it. If you’re prejudiced about certain topics, you’d be at a higher risk to dislike a book that focused on those issues (especially if the author’s views didn’t follow your own). And then there are the books adults think are brainwashing kids to be “weird”. I couldn’t believe CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS was on the list, because my sister has mentioned countless times how her 1st and 2nd grade students love the adventures. I think it’s ironic schools don’t want to stock the books in their libraries, yet display them on Book Fair shelves, knowing they’ll be bought. Seems like a sordid tactic by the powers that be to me.

Another thing I don’t understand is how people judge a book, but never read it. In most instances it’s better to know what you’re standing for, than to simply be part of the pack. Since I have “universal” blood, I attended a blood drive that happened to be at a church. While I was sitting in the canteen, discussion began about Dan Brown’s book THE DAVINCI CODE. It seems someone was coming to the church to talk about it, and the man sitting across from me asked the preacher (who was beside me) whether he planned to attend. The preacher railed that he wasn’t (mind you where I come from religion means fire and brimstone). Then the man asked the preacher if he’d read the book. The preacher didn’t hesitate in saying no, and that he wouldn’t. What troubled me was that he’d condemned something that he hadn’t experienced, and to top that off he’d let society’s (and the church’s) prejudice guide him in his beliefs and actions.

Reading fiction doesn’t make a person bad. Books are simply words on a page that touch the reader’s heart and mind. If the reader is compelled to act, then those actions should be corralled by social mores of right and wrong. The words shouldn’t be banned, yet books still pay the price years after the practice became “accepted”. If anything is the culprit, then pin the trouble on inspiration.

I truly hope our present never degrades into the version of futuristic society I watched play out on cable during my high school years. I remember a gritty setting, almost apocalyptic, where the government controlled/corralled everyone. Books were brought out by the lot and tossed into huge, mountainous bonfires to deter any unrest…to make sure no one learned or knew history. What a tragedy it would be to lose something so precious and to make writing an entirely black-listed vocation.

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