451 degrees

October 7th, 2010

Last week was National Banned Books Week.

Even today, educational institutions and annoying parents march to their local libraries and school boards demanding that books be removed from shelves and classrooms.

Apparently, these people are not fond of the freedom of speech, but they love the freedom to protest.

Instead of reading about new or controversial ideas and discussing them, book-banners fight to make sure no child, teenager or college student be forced to question the things his or her parents taught him.

The American Library Association lists some of the most commonly banned books. Such classic novels as “A Farewell to Arms,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Beloved,” and “The Catcher in the Rye” make the list.

It’s probably a great honor to be on this list. Ironically, being banned, means being relevant enough to be of concern. It means a piece of work is controversial and insightful, and it might just make people feel empowered or angry. Most of all, it probably means an author was painfully honest about the world.

Banned books are iconoclastic – the anti-fairytale. They are not about families of four with a doting mom and a banker for a father. The characters aren’t chaste and loyal, God-fearing and living happily ever after.

That’s not real, and frankly, it’s kind of boring.

Jay Gatsby is heartbroken. He has it bad for a shallow woman, who chose jewelry over real love, and they don’t end up together. Neither do Lady Brett and Jake. He’s impotent, and she’s cursed with beauty and charm.

Sometimes people, including the Lt. Henry and Catherine Barkley from “A Farewell of Arms,” have sex, and they don’t really want a baby or marriage.

“Harry Potter,” which was one of the most banned books in 1999, is popular because it is so imaginative. It’s not a biblical series supporting mysticism, the case made against the book. I think it’s safe to say that readers know the story is fake.

Yes, it is important to consider the age appropriateness of what children read. But high school students know what sex is, and they know the f-word. Heck, they’ve probably yelled it a time or two or at least defiantly thrown a middle finger in the air. They are probably in the process of realizing that their whole constructed world is pretty darn phony and that some boys like other boys. They’ve seen naked people on the Internet or in person, and they probably even wondered about God from time to time.

Citizens seeking censorship don’t get fired up because novels are libelous. They’re made up. They get mad because banned novels question the way people live their lives. They question sacred rituals, traditions and institutions. In that way, readers feel affected.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Twilight,” both of which are on the ALA’s top ten list of most challenged books in 2009, are not personal attacks. Both books present social issues and human nature in context.

Authors know when their work is going to tick people off, but some write what they write anyway. It’s either egotistical or very brave to knowingly open yourself to criticism.

But whatever the motivation for writing, the point is, the author puts her name on it and takes accountability for whatever results.