Happy belated Banned Books week! It was Sept 27th through Oct 4th.
I’ve been working on this essay for a few weeks now and I’ve been hesitant to post given its current political resonance. It’s not that I don’t have definite political opinions, it’s just that there’s no need to pile on.
By now, more than likely you’ve seen the email? The one that lists all the books Sarah Palin wants banned. I promise I’m not going off on a political polemic (relax Harry & Chris), mainly because I want to focus on the books — not the abuse of power that seemed at the root of that particular dispute.
Where I DO want to go is towards a mind-set out that shuts down the exchange of ideas in a heartbeat. That frightens me. If something offends us, should it cease to exist…. really, does that make any sense? We can’t read things with which we disagree? Do you remember an old episode of The Waltons? It was required viewing in my childhood home. As WWII looms closer, the good folks of Walton’s Mountain work themselves into a frenzy against anything German. Events turn ugly, a book burning is planned to provide the necessary catharsis. John-Boy appalled by the venom, pulls an elderly German woman from the crowd (outing her as a German in the process), hands her a small book demanding she read from it. Haltingly, she fumbles for the translation, “In the beginning, God created….” The crowd, released from its hysteria, began to drift away, putting out the fire — disbelieving their descent into mobocracy. As a child that made quite an impression on me — how could anyone destroy, even unwittingly, books?
Oddly enough, quite often the books most challenged are children’s books. As a parent, I do understand the desire to protect your kids from everything. But books, somehow that just seems as if you are denying the foundations of the discernment you are trying to teach — my philosophy, anyway. Here are the most banned of 2007……
1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. (It’s about PENGUINS!!!)
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. (#4 on the all time list) (a kid refuses to participate in the school fund-raiser)
3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. (coming of age story. Henkes is one of those writers that just gets how it feels to be a kid)
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. (the fury over this is because Pullman repeatedly tweaks conservatives with his religious views)
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. (#5 on the all time list) (that anyone would deny another person the sheer poetry of Twain baffles me)
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. (#18 on the all time list) (OK — this is a hard read — but ultimately redemptive)
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle. (teenage girls & IMs — not necessarily for the faint-hearted, very girl-centric)
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. (#3 on the all time list) (her powerful memoir captures the reader)
9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. (#15 on the all time list) (believe it or not it’s a non-fiction, “your changing body” book — don’t parents look for a book like this to help with the “talk”?)
10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. (a gay young man’s coming of age story — unfortunately it’s not as well-written as others, but why would that make it a bad book?)
While neither the alleged Sarah Palins, the actual Anthony Comstocks and Frederick Wertham’s can truly shut off anyone’s mind – they can slow the discourse to such an extent that readers & writers become cautious, afraid to risk new ideas – and that is why we must celebrate and read even things with which we disagree.
Now for the more fun part of this discussion, what books would you bring to a deserted island? Do you have a list? Mine keeps evolving…. When I first began my list, it was during my Linda Hamilton/survivalist mode. I wanted to make sure I had all the bases covered in case I had to restart the world 🙂 !
So here’s a sampling of the books I’ve had on the list and some I’ve added over the years:
Bible (one with a big concordance)
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Complete Works of Dickens
Complete Works of Twain
Complete Works of Austen
101 Greatest Poems, has to include some Langston Hughes
Rousseau’s Social Contract
Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly
Camus’ The Plague
Lincoln’s Speeches & Writings
Norton Anthology of Literature
Anne of Green Gables
Martin Luther King’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail or Compiled Works
Robert’s Rules of Order
Atlas of the World
Scout Handbook/First Aid Manual
Reference Set (Dictionary/Thesaurus)
World History Textbook
US History Textbook
Paperback novels to fit in the crevices of the box
songs to rebel with: Not ready to make nice (Dixie Chicks); The World will Know (from Newsies); When the Deal Goes Down (Bob Dylan); This is not a Test (She & Him); To Love the Language (Harry Connick); Against History (Dan Wilson); Dirty Living (Brendan James); Parents Just Don’t Understand (DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, blast from the past?); The Temptation of Adam (Josh Ritter); La Vie Boheme (cast of Rent); Express Yourself (Madonna); Truth Hits Everybody (Police); Dangerous (Akon); Why are People Like That (Junior Wells); Whatever Gets you Through the Night (John Lennon); You Know I’m No Good (Amy Winehouse); One of Us (Joan Osborne); and We’re All Gonna Die Someday (Kasey Chambers)
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. → John Stuart Mill