I believe banning books is only a hop, skip and a jump away from burning books. Books are more than a window to another world, an escape, or a place to stretch the wings of your imagination. They let you walk in someone else’s shoes, see the world from a different perspective. They make you think and feel. They challenge your assumptions about the world and make you more compassionate. If you can cry for a heroine in a novel, aren’t you more likely to sympathize with your next door neighbor? I think so.
So, when I found a list of the 100 most banned books between 2000 and 2009 compiled by the American Library Association I immediately added those books to my books-to-read spreadsheet. (Yes, I used to have a spreadsheet for books.) Based on the books I’d already read that were on the list, I knew I’d find a lot of gems.
Last weekend I read banned book #60, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I think this book should be required reading for every teenage girl and every parent of a teenage girl. It’s a hard-to-put-down and sobering story about a freshman who struggles to deal with a traumatic event in silence. Until, that is, she finds her voice. This story is filled with pain and humor and I’m recommending it to my daughter, who is 16. It’s up to her if she reads it or not.
A few weeks ago I read #41 on the banned books list, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. I started reading Crutcher when I was a teen because he was a Spokane therapist and novelist. I kept reading him because his books are funny and inspiring even though the teen characters deal with some rough stuff. It’s fitting that his books don’t end happily ever after, but they’re infused with hope and they satisfy. His books are also frequently banned. Whale Talk, for example, includes some racial slurs. But when a Crutcher character uses a slur, the reader sees it for the ugly, hateful expression it is and the impact it has. Naturally, I’ve recommended Crutcher to both of my teens.
I think one reason schools and public libraries ban books is because they want to protect kids from the evils and ills in this world. But that doesn’t work. You can bubble wrap your kids and they will still experience things that are unfair, difficult and painful. Some will experience real horrors. Even the kids who skate through life relatively unscathed will know kids who have suffered much more. A book is a safe way to explore how we can respond to the ugliness in life and rise above it. It’s an opportunity for discussion. Why would you want to ban that?
What do you think about banning books? What books off the list have you read? What did you think of the issues that led it to be banned?