Book banning is one of today’s hot topics. My kids grew up with limited television time, no TV on school days or in bedrooms. They complained. When fifth grade Rakel asked if she could see the school social worker, I wondered if it had to do with entertainment deprivation.
When Rakel (13) was consuming vampires books espousing the idea she might be a vampire, perhaps I should have banned the topic. When Greta (10) couldn’t get enough of R. L. Stine’s “horror” books such as Say Cheese and Die and Stay Out of The Basement, I wondered if I should intervene. But knowing my girls, if I banned the books, their interests would only increase so I turned a blind eye. I want to credit my hands-off decision with my kids for turning them into avid readers, but a recent text exchange with Rakel questions this self-congratulatory memory.
Rakel (considering letting her eleven-year-old read a romance): How old do you think I was when I read The Thorn Birds?
Rakel: Do you actually remember, or do you just hope I wasn’t 9?
Me: Correct. My answers are rooted more in what I hope than reality.
Rakel (now a busy mom/career woman): There is no real reality. It’s all shaped. So may as well sculpt something you like.
Banning books is a slippery slope. I’m for protecting children, but shouldn’t the parents decide about the books their children read? Also, teachers can choose books suited for their students and teach critical thinking skills as they review the content. That opinion is now challenged in the United States by politicians.
Banning a book is the surest way to make young people want to read it. Rakel lives in Tennessee, where the School Board recently prohibited Maus about the Holocaust, a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. What’s the point of an education if we pull back from learning anything that makes us uncomfortable? If books about horrific historical events are not disturbing, they’re inaccurate. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Honesty is the first book of wisdom.” After banning Maus, it sold out on Amazon, and as I write this, it’s trending 2 and 3 as the most sold book.
Topics that make us uncomfortable, sex, violence, black history, and so on, offer opportunities to discover the source of our discomfort. Bookclubs among open-minded people are a source of education and entertainment—and desserts.
When we talk about “banned books,” it usually means “challenged books.” It’s a form of censorship when individuals, organizations, or politicians attempt to remove books from libraries, reading lists, or retail shelves. Until recently, the top two reasons for challenging books were sexual explicitness and offensive language— unsuitable for the targeted age group.
Today, sixty-two percent of books banned in Texas are about LGBTQ people. Captain Underpants is challenged for including a same sex-couple. Arguments defending banning put forth in Florida today include that reading about gay people can make children gay. This nonsense is not deserving of a response. From Pennsylvania to Wyoming, politicians are caving in to pressure from conservative groups to remove books about LGBTQ issues and people of color.
Since its publication, Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, has been banned in schools around the country for its violence and sexual content. In 2020, the 273 titles challenged or banned were stories of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. The ALA (American Library Association) opposes banning books, but libraries often avoid ordering books that stir up their constituents’ emotions. Oscar Wilde put it this way: “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Maus, a best seller https://www.politico.com/news/2022/01/30/maus-tennessee-sales-books-00003453
Captain Underpants https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Pennsylvania Bans Books https://www.pahouse.com/InTheNews/NewsRelease/?id=121223
Ten Most Banned Books https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Frequently Challenged Children’s Books https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/childrensbooks