Thursday, September 30

For the Greater Good

In honor of Banned Book Week I thought that I would sit down and read two banned books. No, not really. Really I was locked in a room for two days to monitor people who were going through 70 boxes full of documents. (Take heed future litigators... hell awaits you.)

I was locked in this room and I was in between books so I decided to read books that have been on my shelf for quite some time, Yuppie Sister's copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and my copy of The Catcher and the Rye that I think, if I'm remember correctly, I acquired from an old boyfriend.

I could give you my review of the works, but I'm afraid that once I start bashing Salinger's glorified whine fest I won't be able to stop. For the record though, I believe that Mockingbird has earned its place as one of the great works of American literature. The fact that I managed to earn a college degree without ever reading it (I never picked it off the reading lists because everyone was picking it and I stupidly had to be different) is just horrid.

Instead I wanted to say a general word about the dangers of censoring access to literature. I think we all know that banning books is bad show in a democratic nation. The fact that parents and school boards all over the U.S. of A. successfully limit library and public school access to books that might invite conversations or question a community's way of thinking is maddening. Sure, I personally think that if you want to read a book about a young person who is questioning society's definition of normal you should skip Catcher in the Rye and turn to Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar, but my personal preference for good writing and well developed story shouldn't stop those who prefer mindless drivel.

The thing that gets me about these self proclaimed keepers of culture, is when they protest literature they tend to invoke The Greater Good as if I should be subjected to their values. Challenging the books that are placed on public shelves does more than simply express a privately held point of view, it denies individuals the freedom to think for themselves. In fact, this year's Banned Books Week theme (sponsored by the American Libraries Association) is "think for yourselves and let others do the same."

I think one could probably argue, especially in a world that includes, that simply banning a book from a library does little to reduce the book's circulation. Case in point, the books that I read this week are both considered American classics. However, well as being widely banned, both books are also widely taught in schools. Still, as a poor person who gets 90% of my reading material from a public library, I think its important to know the practice of challenging books exists. Its important to know that just as a wacko is allowed to challenge books, the thinking public is allowed to challenge the wacko right back - for The Greater Good.


The Bug said...

Man, the Bell Jar was SO well written. By the end of it I was INSIDE her head, which was a scary place to be (especially since I was an impressionable teenager at the time).

One of the comics I read has been tackling banned books week. This link should take you to the beginning (it started on Saturday) & then you can click the right arrow to seet the others.

Read Sunday's for sure - I think you'll enjoy it :)

Single and Sane said...

A teacher at my high school was fired for teaching "Catcher in the Rye" in the 1960s, so when I attended in the 70s, every single English teacher felt it was their duty to make us watch a filmstrip - yes a filmstrip - on the book. I never read it, largely because the filmstrip burned me out on it around the 5th or 6th viewing.

Glad to know I didn't miss anything. Thanks for taking that bullet for me! ;-)

Amy said...

Katy, You said this so well. I noticed the big sign at our library this week, "Read a banned book." Love it! I, too, depend on the library and am happy when I go to volunteer there and shelve in the juvenile section and Tom Sawyer and Huckeberry Finn are right there unabridged!

Right now I'm tutoring two 4th graders in reading - one on one through our Literacy program. One of my students has limits on what is acceptable to read (per her mother). Nothing scary, nothing dangerous, nothing..... I'm grateful I was smart enough not to do that with my girls. Now they are well read young women who can discern for themselves what is quality and what's not.

Thanks for posting this!