In writing and literature circles, one frequently hears discussion about the danger a man with a pen–a writer, a poet, a free thinker–can pose to the establishment. And, with writers across the centuries jailed under political circumstances in countries all around the world, one must consider that the statement “the pen is mightier than the sword” is absolutely true…or at least the fear that it might be true is.
Trying to kill an idea is like saying “I forbid it” to a teenager. The result: exactly what you do NOT want to have happen.
Ideas are fickle things…they come and they go. Most of them whisp out without fuss. However, in the face of ultimate opposition, conflicting ideas will generate enough energy to alert the masses to the clash and ultimately alter the thoughts and behaviors of society.
Think about the whole gay marriage issue. From a logical standpoint, if two people want to marry and share all the legal/societal obligations that go with that contract, the decision affects only those two people. At no point in history has a marriage between any two people in New York ever had an impact on Joe Schmo living in Texas (or the couple’s immediate neighbors, for that matter). But with all the hubub in the Republican party (and various others inclined to jackassery) and the whole North Carolina “man and woman” marriage policy being voted in, the opposite shove came from no less than the President and Vice President of the United States. So ain’t that just a kick in the pants?
Books are no less threatening to some.
Consider the frequently challenged classics listed with the American Library Association. Seriously? I read several of the books on this list in high school (some for class and some for personal) and I can’t remember a single thing other than I either liked the story or I thought it was terribly boring. No words stand out. No scenes stand out. And speaking from teacher experience, at least 60% of the time a student never finishes the book (and sometimes doesn’t even crack it open); the book isn’t worth two beans. But, if someone makes a fuss about it–it will often guarantee that the book will not only be read, but remembered specifically for the objectionable content.
Reasons people give for trying to ban a book: sex, language, religious objections. Hmm.
- Sex. Talking about it or reading about it doesn’t make someone more/less likely to go out and begin a life of rabid promiscuity. I get that we have uptight religious roots that run through our social ideology as a nation, but get over it. The kids see more graphic sex on TV before they are ten than they would ever find in a whole library of books in their lifetime! So, quit denying it exists and just talk to your kid about how you want him or her to view that part of the human experience.
- Language. Again, this is everywhere. You can’t escape slang. You can’t escape euphemisms. You can’t escape swear words. You can’t escape the cultural baggage that these things carry with them. Whitewashing language with political correctness may make you feel better, but it acts like an arrow pointing to the elephant in the room. If you object to swearing or other words, by all means, make sure your child knows this and knows WHY you feel this way. But use that as an opportunity to discuss the issue as it comes up rather than an opportunity to deprive your child of a good book.
- Religious objections. This country was founded on religious freedom. That means I can experience my spiritual path and you can experience yours–with neither one of us trying to destroy the other. So, if your objections are based on your own particular religious views that is perfectly fine; use it to explain to your own family why a book is not suitable in your eyes. However, if you want to foist your objections of the book to control my access to it, you are pushing your religious values over mine. And, historically, that never ends well…
So what do I have to say to book challengers and banners: bite me.
If I object to a book it will be because the book didn’t live up to my expectations. For example, I strenuously object to Melville and I refuse to read Moby Dick. Why? Because I have read his other works and the experiences were so dreadful that I refuse to repeat them. He and I do not see eye to eye; his language is so dull and the ennui so great that I would rather chew tinfoil. Someone should have burned his manuscripts. But would I dare to ban his work from other readers who might find something wonderful, something edifying, in it? Not on your life.
What do I want all readers to remember:
- Books are living things. No one reads the same book. We are creatures of individual experiences and expectations; we meet the book differently. What a book imparts to me will not be the secret it whispers to you.
- Books are not obligations. If you have an objection to the book for whatever reason, you are free to walk away at any time. No one is forcing the book upon you.
Because I am apparently crabby today, I thought I should lighten the mood with a funny: