Thursday, September 25, 2014

Shameless: Reading Banned Books

Today's post is in honor of Banned Books Week; so, in case ya'll didn't know about BBW go out and read a banned book and love it. Because there's a whole slew of things better off banned than books.

A long time ago I wrote a post on why banning books really grinds my gears, and since it's Banned Books Week, I figured I'd reiterate a few points and maybe bring out a few new ones.

For one, I feel like I should start with this: did you know that THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky was one of the top 10 challenged books of 2013? And, get this: did you know that I named my blog after this wonderful book? Because I identified with it in a strange way, and it inspired me to really start chasing my dreams.

(Check out these ALA Frequently Challenged Books lists)

Other common banned and challenged books include recent popular titles like THE HUNGER GAMES (Suzanne Collins), HARRY POTTER (J.K. Rowling), THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (Jay Asher), LOOKING FOR ALASKA (John Greene), and even TWILIGHT (Stephanie Meyer).

Want some commonly banned books that can be considered on a more classic scale? Try BRAVE NEW WORLD (Aldous Huxley), OF MICE AND MEN (John Steinbeck), THE KITE RUNNER (Khaled Hosseini), and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Harper Lee).

I mean, okay. Those were all just to name a few, but in that previous paragraph all three of those books were required reading at my high school. And you know what? I'm glad for it.

Common reasons for challenging or banning books tend to include: drug use, alcohol use, sexually explicit scenes, foul language, religious viewpoints, and political viewpoints. Or, god forbid, the books are "unsuited for age group."


Here's the thing: these books are being challenged for being realistic, and that's a huge problem. Sure, we don't round up two people from every state or country and shove them in a giant arena to kill each other, but who, here, actually thinks that's the point of THE HUNGER GAMES? My opinion has always been as follows: people drink, people do drugs, people swear, people have sex. People will have a different religious viewpoint than you do and people will have a different political viewpoint than you do.

Suck it up. Widen your horizons. Accept the fact that everybody in this world is different, and accept the fact that this world isn't as blissfully pretty as you'd like to believe.

Literature is supposed to make us think. It's supposed to make us uncomfortable. Because, guess what? Literature is how we look at our own world through a slightly different lens, emphasizing some aspect of life or another. Sometimes it's ugly, yes. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then think about why. And if it still makes you uncomfortable then politely put the book down and say, "Hey, this book isn't for me."

Nobody's going to lynch you in front of the library, okay?

My biggest problem with banned books is the fact that it involves some Big Brother kind of power making a decision for others. Sometimes it's only one or two people-such as parents telling their children that certain books are not acceptable-and sometimes it involves an entire community-a whole town or school. This is what I'm not okay with, because in these cases it usually involves an adult telling a child that they cannot read something.

Which means that the child will not have the opportunity to be introduced to other things. By keeping them "sheltered" in this way, some believe it's a kind of protection, when in reality it hurts them more than anything because it breeds ignorance in the light of many common issues that plague us, today.

Many of the issues that people have problems with tend to be on the superficial level of the text in question-simply refer back to that list of reasons that I gave you straight from the ALA website. Language, drugs, alcohol...because people get so wound up over these ultimately insignificant issues they miss the big picture offered in many truly amazing books. If you look past the violence in THE HUNGER GAMES, you can find a mockery of media and a girl's quest for identity while everyone around her tries to tell her who she is (this latter one is a common theme among many books; think PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austin: Elizabeth Bennet struggles against the bounds of her society, trying to find herself when everyone-including her own mother-insists that she's a woman and a woman must become a wife, and her value comes from how well she marries. Or am I the only one who saw the similarities in this theme?).

Another example: THE KITE RUNNER. Reasons for being challenged include references to homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes. But beyond all of that is a quest for a boy to come to terms with mistakes he's made and the consequences of doing nothing in the face of conflict. It's another tale about identity and how to find it in a world that's not safe, and probably never will be.

What about books that are challenged because of their religious or political viewpoints? In my opinion, these books are not written for the goal of shoving the author's beliefs down the reader's throats. Many of these only have a slight dusting of it. Heck, I'm not going to stop reading Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN CYCLE books just because one of the characters goes to a Catholic church very Sunday. A series of books written for young readers that has a lot more of a religious opinion (and has also been challenged a lot) is the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy by Philip Pullman. Even as a middle schooler, I could tell that there was a huge criticism of religion, and while at times it put me off I kept reading for the story, itself: the characters within it were at a crossroads, trying to maneuver the world between being a kid and becoming an adult, and struggling to accept that as they grow older, the world will change and nothing can ever stay the same.

All of these books offer a different perspective on life. Life from the past, life that could happen in the future, and, above all, life that's happening right now. By banning books and shutting out these themes and messages to new generations, readers are going to stop seeing the themes between them and learn to focus on the superficial levels, drawing conclusions that in reality aren't even there and wearing rose-colored glasses so dark that they're eventually going to trip over their feet and have a real shock when those glasses fall off.

So what's my point? Banning books is ridiculous. It does more harm than good. It teaches people to accept what's given to them instead of exploring things for themselves. Ultimately, it's not fair to those who never even get the option to decide for themselves.

And those are my reasons. What are yours?

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Banning books breeds ignorance. @Rae_Slater explains (Click to Tweet)

Literature should make us think, and it should make us uncomfortable. Why banning books hurts (Click to Tweet)

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