I know I wrote this blog after last week’s Banned Books Week, but I think it’s an important issue that you shouldn’t cram into a week and then forget it. Books are banned or challenges on a daily basis, so I think it’s important to talk about.
I was lucky growing up because my mom let me read anything and everything. As I wrote in an earlier blog, she got me to read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Good Earth. My mom asked a couple of years ago if I read anything I shouldn’t and I said no. I couldn’t watch Three’s Company or Jaws but I was encouraged to read Cather in the Rye, “f bomb” and all.
I get upset when I hear when parents want to ban or challenge books. It’s not enough that a parent doesn’t want their children to read books like To Kill a Mockingbird, they want ban books so all children at the school can’t read them too. I remember a couple of years ago there was a couple who wanted Toni Morrison’s Beloved to not be taught in the advanced literature class in high school. They called the book “pornography”. I haven’t read Beloved yet but it seems the book is a serious look at the affects of slavery, plus I doubt if the Nobel Prize gives out an awards for pornography.
Some books have been banned for odd reasons. The Diary of Anne Frank was considered “too depressing “. I’m sure living over a bakery in an attic to avoid getting caught by the Nazis was not a barrel of monkeys, so to speak. Where’s Waldo, the big picture book where the object is to find Waldo, was banned in one school because supposedly in a beach scene, you can see a side boob. If your kid can’t find Waldo, how are they going to find side boobs?
Every year, books with LGBT themes are challenged or banned. In past years books like Heather Has Two Mommies or And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book about gay penguins, have been challenged. On the list this past year, two LGBT books were challenged or banned: I am Jazz, a memoir by transgender teen Jazz Jennings, and the novel Two Boys Kissing by David Lethivan. When I was a teen growing up in the 70’s, the only queer themed novels I could find were by Gordon Merrick. I found his books at Walden Books. They usually had garish covers of 2 good looking guys half naked hugging each other with titles like The Great Urge Downward or The Lord Won’t Mind. They weren’t subtle, but you knew what you were getting. I always thumbed through the books, looking for the dirty parts, but I never bought them. I’m pretty sure my school library didn’t have it.
One of my favorite books I read as a teenager was Slaughterhouse Five, which usually gets challenged from year to year. In 1970, about the time I might have read it for the first time, a school in Oregon banned it on the grounds it was “depraved and immoral…vulgar and anti-Christian”. I reread it last year and thought it was, along with Catch-22, one of the best anti-war books ever written. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr said it best about his book, “How can anyone masturbate to Slaughterhouse Five?” Good question.
I encourage everyone to Google banned books and read a couple. Most of the best books from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to To Kill a Mockingbird have been either banned or challenged. Also, encourage your children to read banned books like The Diary of Anne Frank when they are old enough to appreciate them. Talk to your kids about what they learned from reading it. Be a parent who wants their children to read all kinds of books so they can better understand this world we live in.