“Nothing corrodes young minds quite so much as reading.” -Alexander Nazaryan, The Banned Books of Alabama, The Atlantic Wire
If you’ve been to your local library or logged onto any social networking site this week, you may have heard that it’s Banned Books Week, an event observed the last week of every September when readers are encouraged to celebrate the freedom to read. Ever the rebel, I had to revisit the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s 2013 List of Banned Books released in April to see if I’d missed out on anything I should not only be corrupting my own mind with but those of my children as well.
Number 1 on the list, perceived by idiots somewhere, supposedly in great numbers, to be the most dangerous book for undermining adult authority amongst young children: The Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey. The books have been praised because they’ve encouraged middle-grade boys to read when fewer and fewer titles lately have done so. “Not so fast!” cry some parents and educators, pointing to the bathroom humor and irreverent attitude of the title character. A boy with a superhero persona that runs around in his tighty whiteys pitted against a villainous middle school principal is a threat and must be silenced! Nevermind the lesson that authority should sometimes be questioned or the cautionary tale that all adults in powerful positions aren't always honorable.
Numbers 2 and 3 on the list, Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why find themselves on the list for “racism/sexually explicit” and “drugs/sex/suicide” respectively. Heaven forbid we have young people reading subject matter that may actually be relevant to them. This will never do! We can’t have our youth turning to books in order to feel that they aren’t alone in facing the struggles of adolescence. Shouldn’t they be on Twitter or Instagram for that?!
No surprise was E. L. James’ multimillion selling erotic trilogy Fifty Shades, ranked at No. 4. This is one I hope the kiddos will wait a good long while before delving into. Last summer, we saw a sex toy shop billboard emblazoned with the words “Butt Plugs”, I kid you not, in three-foot lettering, on the way to Jacksonville, Florida to board a cruise for the Bahamas, and I spent a goodly amount of the drive squashing debates amongst the chirren about what, why, wherefore and how such a devise would ever be called for and utilized. It wasn’t pretty and quite frankly, neither is Fifty Shades of DooDoo as I’ve taken to calling it—and not just for its own butt plug references. (I found James’ writing to be poor and her rip-off of Twilight unimaginative, but that is a post for another day.)
Numbers 5 and 6, And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, can thank their audacity at trying to incorporate the reality of homosexuality into their narratives for landing on the list. These books are unfit for common consumption according to objectors. Damn gay penguins! Ain’t nobody got time for that! Society can’t have our youth learning tolerance and compassion. Look where that got us in the 1960’s!
Looking for Alaska by John Green ranks at Number 7 for offensive language and being sexually explicit/unsuited for age group. Bet some of these same parents don’t have a problem letting their kids watch Dance Moms and Toddlers & Tiaras, both of which are real threats to human decency.
Number 8, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Swartz, gave me pause. My mother and I regularly gather all the children in our family around large bon fires in the fall and try to scare the begeezus out of them—or at least make them wet their pants a trickle—with Swartz’s books and others like it. Their friends beg for invitations to these readings, and now I can’t help but be a tad worried one of the little beastie’s parents might turn me in to child protective services when Junior decides he won’t be bathing or sleeping alone until college. Hmmmmm.
Number 9, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, is a 2005 memoir recounting Walls’ and her siblings’ unconventional, poverty-stricken upbringing at the hands of their deeply dysfunctional parents. This book should be every parent’s go-to reading assignment for the kid that complains that they don’t have enough Hollister or Abercrombie & Fitch. In a showdown a couple of weeks ago, one of my own teenage sons suggested that I was a bad parent because he didn’t have any clean t-shirts. He hurled another insult about reheated green beans or some such crap. This weekend he’ll have lots of free time to read The Glass Castle.
Rounding out 2013’s top ten most threatening collection of words is Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The main reasons given for objections to the work: sexually explicit/religious viewpoint/violence. There’s nothing that gets a book banners panties in a wad quite like stories that question long-held religious standards and beliefs. And violence is almost always unsuitable to these self-appointed guardians of good taste and morality—no matter how historically accurate. Beloved is a beautiful work that had a powerful impact on me and made me a fan of Toni Morrison forever. Before this book, I’d never fully appreciated the horrors of slavery, the lengths a mother might go to in order to protect her children from it, or what a haunted lifetime of regret could do to someone.
Every year, dozens of books are challenged and requested to be removed from school reading lists and public library shelves by “concerned” parents and citizens objecting to the opinions and/or the subject matter they contain. These challenges attempt to restrict or remove the access of others based on an individual or group’s point of view alone. Successful challenges result in a banning or removal of those materials. The American Library Association calls this “a threat to freedom of speech and choice.” I agree.
Now, hurry on out to your local library or book store and pick up one of these titles to corrupt the minds of a young person you love. They’ll emerge from their reading experience a richer and more enlightened person, though I can’t promise that they won’t also feel the urge to strip down to their undies and don a cape.