Read a Banned Book

Do you remember English Composition in high school? It was basically a class on how to write. Here is my brief summary. I remember we had to write descriptive pieces; i.e., “The big yellow, fuzzy, slow-moving caterpillar crawled onto the tall, bright, blue flower.” Think adjectives! Then we learned about persuasive writing, i.e. “You should do this because it will help save the planet, the air will be easier to breathe, the water will be cleaner and if you don’t we will all die!’  Soon, we heard about plots and protagonists and antagonists. Protagonists being the good guys and antagonists being the bad guys. We were taught that stories needed plots which have beginnings, middles and ends. To our dismay, we also had to write some poetry which has iambic pentameter! Who the hell remembers what that is?  My summary is complete, as we were taught all summaries needed to be.

The written word. Your writing is your property. It is your creation, whether a grocery list, a 500 page novel, an article in the New York Times or notably, a page in your diary. I come from a family of writers. There would be a very tall pile of books, journals and diaries if we stacked them all together. This began with my Mother, who has written in many diaries and journals, and a lot of us have continued this tradition for ourselves. Recently there has been a rush to ban books, being proposed by “authorities” like parent groups and school boards. These books are controversial because they deal with racial issues, violence, and those who are perceived as “others”, primarily LGBTQ people. I saw a woman on a news show actually declaring, “We don’t want our children sexualized.” Yikes! Unless, of course, they are straight, white and conforming. It is laughable to think that our young people aren’t already quite knowledgeable about sex and race. Social media takes care of that! Certainly parents have a responsibility to care for and protect their children from harm, but is teaching children to be hateful and Intolerant responsible parenting?

Full disclosure, I worked for over 15 years in a book store. I was surrounded by a world of books. It was not my job to tell people that a book sucked, had tons of swear words or hot sex scenes, or was full of misinformation or lies.  If they wanted “Huckleberry Finn” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”, both of which have been banned at one time or another, I found it for them. I shelved “The Joy of Sex” and “The Joy of Gay Sex”. The teenagers that were furtively looking at either of  these books were not bad kids, they were curious kids. The book that I had a few qualms about ordering was  “The Anarchist Cookbook”, a book giving “recipes” for bomb making and explosives, but I ordered it without commentary. We did not stock it but ordered it if someone wanted it. Mark Twain said he wrote “Huckleberry Finn” as a statement against slavery and he used the “n” word because it was the vernacular of the time, but his American classic was often banned. His quote is one of the best I have ever read on censorship: “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

Little Red Riding Hood was banned at one point because there was wine in her basket! “The Catcher in the Rye” has been banned more than any other single book, but it is considered the best book on the adolescence experience ever written. Read it if you haven’t read it, your palms won’t grow hair…. Remember that Isaac Asimov believed “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.”

In summary, (English Comp. 100 -this is how you end essays), today, it seems  the push to ban books is an overt attempt to “whitewash” our society and demonize those whose sexuality does not “fit “ into a heterosexual box. I believe  Alex Ponomarenko said it best: Despite insensitive and downright explicit themes that these banned books hold, they are mirrors to bitter and uncomfortable realities which we cannot simply censor or hide away. In fact, doing so will only cause more harm than good. A mind manipulated to think of only good things or see the world as simply black and white seriously threatens humanity’s survival.   

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