Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hey, did you know it's Banned Books Week?

With all the furor over whether or not to burn a Qu'ran lately, it's easy to forget all those other books that people might have a problem with. But here we are, right in the middle of Banned Books Week.
That's right, people are still trying to get certain books pulled from libraries, schools and even bookstore shelves. There are many reasons, often because of profanity, sexual references or the fact that some books fail to portray homosexuals as degraded monsters doomed to eternal torment in the hottest fires of hell.
Or sometimes there are vague labels such as "anti-family" or simply "inappropriate" which could mean ANYTHING.

And yes, there may be things out there you don't want your kid to be reading. I'm a parent, I understand that (although, speaking as a parent, getting my kid to read at all sometimes takes a minor miracle), but do you want to be the ultimate authority on what you child is or isn't allowed to read, or is that for some outside agency to decide? Personally, I try to have a bit of control over our bookshelf.

I'm also worried about the concept of "dangerous ideas." Why yes, ideas can be upsetting, moving, challenging and, in a way, "dangerous," but to isolate young readers from ideas doesn't make the ideas less potent, it makes the reader less able to think clearly about them. While there should be a progression of sorts, a blanket ban on certain concepts is a clumsy way to handle it.

As Chesterton said, "Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas."

Go read some Mark Twain stories with your child (Huckleberry Finn, "racially sensitive language") or buy them the Harry Potter series (references to witchcraft) or sit down with To Kill a Mockingbird (language, uncomfortable racial interactions).

Perhaps not surprisingly, the list of books that have been challenged or banned outright is also a list of some of the most interesting reading going on. It also lines up pretty well with the list of our greatest literature.


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