September 30, 2006

Banned, Baby: So Long, Farewell, Keep Reading

Technically, this is the end of Banned Books Week, and you may wonder why such a big deal is made of the one week a year where everyone reminds us of that we should honor and strongly support our Constitutional right to read. I will egotistically state that the ALA does this week for me... because I wasn't allowed to read everything I wanted to read when I was growing up.

Not an unusual lament; parents are the gatekeepers of their children's reading habits, and my parents were all about nonfiction and "truth." National Geographic: fine. Amazing Stories: not fine. But, as a high school student (see how long I was obedient?) through my undergraduate years and later as an MFA, I learned over and over again that a.) unvarnished facts don't necessarily tell all the truth, and b.) fiction doesn't necessarily contain no element of "the true;" even fairytales have their own truths.

Truth: it's something we'd all like to think that we have, or know. The truth about everything. It's also something many parents believe that they must impart to their 'tweens and teens about the world around them, only young adults, in the way of things, think they know well enough what is true for them... and many years of their adolescence are spent being pulled one way, and pulling back the other. The problem with truth is, you don't tell it by not speaking it. You don't tell it by trying to force people to see only your truth. You don't tell it by squashing it, hiding it, and not trusting it to come to the light.

I don't want any of my books to be banned. Ever. I don't want to be a writer whom a parent sees as an enemy to their child, nor can I imagine any author courting the banned bandwagon, nor wanting to be labelled as having "a liberal agenda" -- or any agenda to peddle to children. It's not enjoyable to be put in the place of defending oneself in any case, but to a writer, our books are close to our hearts. It is wrenching to imagine that a parent will teach a child that you -- and your books -- are the enemy. Thoughts divergent from our own are not our enemies. FEAR -- fear of thinking, fear of listening, fear of trusting our kids to formulate their own thoughts and opinions, fear of a too-tolerant moral stance -- that's the enemy. And if parents are teaching kids to fear thoughts... how are they teaching them to listen to themselves and to learn to think?

A parent's, a school district's, a teacher's or a librarian's trusting a child to read intelligently, to be discerning and personally opinionated is a gift to that child. It teaches them that adults don't think they're so stupid that they must be protected, at all costs, from growing up. I know that's not the message my parents meant to send to me. They were, after all, trying to preserve my soul , and I thank them for the love. Perhaps someday I, too, will so deeply want to protect someone's mind. But I believe that there are other ways to go about it... ways that involve reading widely and discussing openly. Ways that involve parental bravery and hours of time, hours spent discussing what's right with something instead of what's wrong.

Idealistic? Probably. Well-meaning but frightened adults exist. But even they can learn and grow and change. It's still a dream worth keeping.

Call it a new American dream - freedom of mind for every mind.
Thanks for the reminder, Banned Book Week. See you again next year.

1 comment:

a. fortis said...

And thanks, T, for the awesome Banned Book Week posts!!