October 1, 2010

Banned books week

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
~ from the American Library Association site

According to the American Library Association site, the top ten most frequently challenged books of 2009 are:
  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle. Reasons: drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  2. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.  Reasons: homosexuality 
  3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.  Reasons: anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group
  4. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  Reasons: offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group 
  5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer.  Reasons: religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  6. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  7. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult.  Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler. Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
  9. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.  Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  10. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.  Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group 
Now, in all honesty, I have only read two of these books (Catcher in the Rye & To Kill a Mockingbird), and only heard of an additional three (Twilight, My Sister's Keeper & The Color Purple). I will say, I am tempted to read #8 from the funny title alone.

Of the two I have read, I would be happy if no one read Catcher in the Rye, simply because I think it isn't worth reading. To me, it seems that the only reason it is popular is for the shock value for the time it was written. I don't think the book has much value in and of itself.

I feel the same about the movie The Graduate. It probably pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, but without the shock value, I found it a pretty ordinary/boring movie that didn't age well. I would steer people away from both because they aren't worth your time, but I certainly wouldn't stop you if you insisted.

But To Kill a Mockingbird is a fantastic book. It would probably sit near the top ten if I ever tried to make a list of great books I have read. I saw the movie a year or so later, and it also ranks high on the lifetime list.

But of course the book deals with some difficult subjects, and I did read it as an adult. So I guess this is where the fuzzy line comes in for me. My knee-jerk reaction at banning books (especially something as good as To Kill a Mockingbird) is to rail against the 'small-minded fools' that would keep such a classic out of a reader's hands. But maybe the themes of the book would be better appreciated by someone older. I can't say for sure since I didn't read it until I was in my 40's. Would I have enjoyed it as much when I was at that 'impressionable age'?

Of course there will always be subjects that you don't discuss with children because it is not age appropriate. But by high school, I think most topics are on the table. Other than the language of the time, I don't think anything in the book would offend the sensibilities of a high school reader. To pretend that you can 'protect' them inside a bubble of innocence is both unrealistic and hardly helpful in raising mature adults. And I think if parents and teens read To Kill a Mockingbird together, it would lead to some very worthwhile discussions.

And as always, check things out for yourself. Don't take for granted that anyone's opinion of literature matches your own.

No comments: