October 2, 2010



No writer — or reader, for that matter — should let the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week pass without note, so here goes.

Censorship has always angered me. It’s one reason I haven’t followed in the footsteps of my college adviser, who specialized (I believe) in media law and First Amendment issues. I’ve thought about getting a graduate degree media law before, and it was one of my favorite classes … but I think studying censorship all the time would leave me perpetually pissed off — and that’s something my good-natured, romantic-comedy-loving self doesn’t want to be.

It never ceases to amaze me what some people find objectionable, though. Check out the list of 100 frequently challenged classics: “Lord of the Rings”? “1984”? “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? “Winnie the Pooh”?

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was removed from classrooms in Miller, Mo.,  in 1980 because it makes promiscuous sex “look like fun”?

Of the 100 that made the list, I’ve read about 30 — either in middle school, high school or college. There are another four that I definitely want to read … and the rest I know I should read (someday, if I ever find the time).

The list of the top 100 most frequently banned books from 1990-1999 includes some of my childhood favorites: “The Outsiders,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Carrie” and pretty much anything by Judy Blume.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was lucky to have gone to school in rural Indiana. I had some great “radical-thinking” teachers who didn’t shy away from teaching banned classics. In fact, I wrote an article for my high school paper back in 1988 talking about some of their reasons for teaching censored books.

The gist: The lessons such books teach far outweigh any “offensive” language or concepts used. As my senior English and composition teacher, Darwin Sievers, explained: It’s important to be aware of all experiences, not just pleasant ones. “Maybe students can avoid unpleasant firsthand experiences if they can experience them secondhand,” he said.

Besides, who gets to be the final arbiter of what’s truly offensive? I find the words spewing from the mouths of certain politicians offensive (no, I’m not naming names) … but that doesn’t mean I have the right to tell them they can’t say those things. I can turn the channel when they come on TV because I don’t have to listen — but I can’t keep others from hanging on every idiotic word.

Same goes for reading. If you don’t like a book, don’t buy it. Don’t read it. Don’t try to keep others from reading, though. And definitely don’t try to get it banned from your library. (All you’ll do is drum up sales of it. Controversy sells books.)

I need to wrap up this post before I get even more worked up. *Deep breath.*

Since I’m curious, I’ll borrow a question from agent Nathan Bransford: What’s your favorite banned book?

I can’t pick just one. I honestly can’t imagine life without any of them. I’m sure I wouldn’t be who I am today had I never read “Charlotte’s Web,” “Gone with the Wind,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and too many other books to mention.

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