September 22nd, 2010
Let me guess. You’re reading this blog anyway, even though I explicitly directed you not to. Typical! Next thing you know you’ll be searching the catalog for contentious material, like Gone with the Wind, Little House on the Prairie, Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, or worse — Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary!
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Those books are four of many that have been hotly debated in the United States, their place in schools challenged. Both in California and Illinois, Gone with the Wind was seen as offensive because of its depiction of race relations; in Louisiana and South Dakota, Little House on the Prairie was seen as derogatory against Native Americans; Silverstein’s poetry wasn’t appreciated in Wisconsin where it was believed his work encouraged children to break dishes instead of wash them. And the story behind California’s Golden State’s Menifee Union School District fight to ban the dictionary? Well, that’s just too scandalous to even mention here. Let’s just say that some words are too inappropriate to define.
Why is it that being told what not to do makes us want to do it all the more? Seems to me that we often forget how great our freedoms are until they have been threatened. Harper Lee put it succinctly: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
And how apropos to hear from Harper Lee, as her novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been one of the most challenged books in our country for decades. I can’t help but laugh at how many of the challenged books I read growing up, and their controversial material was completely lost on me. If only someone had explained the naughty bits! Just whispered from the adjacent library aisle: “Psst… If you’re looking for something juicy to read, check out Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales!” (Who knew 14th century literature could be so risqué?)
So join me and celebrate National Banned Books Week this week by exercising your freedom to read. What will I read? Maybe I’ll read The Diary of Anne Frank, even though the Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected it in 1983 because it’s a “real downer.” Or I wouldn’t mind rereading Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit; London schools banned it in the 1980s because it only depicts “middle-class rabbits.” Or if I really want to test the waters, I’ll look into this book.
So tell me what YOU think – is (book) ignorance bliss?
Want to see more banned books? Check out this list!