It’s Banned Books Week again, that week cherished by bibliophiles and lovers of intellectual freedom, a time when the stupidity and bigotry of would-be censors is exposed to the light of day. Granted, a small part enjoying of BBW comes from a feeling of coalition; it’s nice to meet others who prize big ideas over small minds but the core of the celebration are the books themselves. Banned Books are some of the best stories in the world.
When I first heard Americans were banning books, I was a teenager and my personal library was kept on one shelf. At the time, I was amazed that anyone in the USA endorsed censorship, especially after after WWII (why copy any policy approved of by Hitler?) The real surprise came when I read which books folks had wanted to ban: Alice In Wonderland? To Kill A Mockingbird? The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds? Were they kidding? Almost every book on my shelf (and all of my favorites) had been a target for censorship at some point.
I also noticed titles that were not on the list. One of families that I baby-sat for kept a collection of paperbacks in the living room that, shall we say, were not to my taste. Not your standard coffee table fare (although that’s where they were kept). None of those titles were on the challenged book list. Now, I don’t want to control anyone else’s reading material but I couldn’t understand the rationale. Why would be book-banners ignored the neighbor’s volume of “Loving Family” (if you can’t guess the plot lines, you don’t want to know) and pick on my Catcher In The Rye?
I heard a lot of canned remarks about parental concerns and impressionable minds whenever I asked this question but campaigns against specific books still didn’t make any sense when I looked at the challenged material and the specifics of the parental concerns. It took some thinking but I think I’ve found the real reason specific books get some folks looking for matches. The reason isn’t sex or drugs, violence or rock-n-roll. Books get challenged when they contain material that gets the reader to think.