Sunday, September 30, 2007

Soapbox time

My mama raised a reader. I was allowed to run around in libraries, reading what I chose. I read and re-read the Little House books numerous times, but I'd also read, like any '80s-born girl, the Baby Sitters Club books. I liked the Choose Your Own Adventure books, but I also read Little Women and Anne of Green Gables (multiple times on both counts). The Secret Garden. Hatchet. Bridge to Terabithia. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Outsiders. A Light in the Attic.

At some point, when I showed signs of becoming too involved with the BSC books at the expense of "better quality" literature, my mother started steering me toward books like Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Jane Austen's novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I resisted at first, largely due to the coercion factor (I've never liked being told what to do, and my adolescent self was particularly stubborn... unlike, say, now).

Slowly, though, I began to pick up those books on my own. I had the benefit of reading The Lord of the Flies on my own, not as assigned reading. The Giver was another I picked up and enjoyed and still re-read from time to time. I also read and loved 1984. Judy Blume's books were favorites of mine for a while, especially Tiger Eyes. Caroline Cooney's books were also up there on my "it" list. I've dabbled in Stephen King's books, and just last year read Catcher in the Rye for the first time, followed by the perks of being a wallflower.

Somewhere between my resistance to my mother's wishes and when I began to pick up the books on my own was where I found out about the concept of "Banned Books." Like any rebellious teen, the controversy made me seek out these forbidden books. I did so with my mother's blessing.

I was never forbidden from reading anything. Did I ever pick up books that were maybe a little too "mature" for me? Yes, and I was probably more strict a censor of my own reading than any well-intentioned adult would have been. Kissing? Umm... I think I'll skip that part. Uh-oh... he's touching--I think I'll return this book. "Bad" words made me squirm, but I think I either mentally bleeped them out, or else I secretly reveled in reading them, careful not to think them too loudly to myself. I may have been a strange child, but I knew my own limitations, and as I got older and more curious, I read edgier things. The concept of anyone trying to dictate who can read what, and moreover, trying to dictate what is and isn't "appropriate" for others, is one that strikes me as puritanical.

People who know me know that I will read just about anything. They also know that this whole "banned books" issue is one of my soapbox issues. Since I found the ALA's list of "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books 1990-2000," I've made it a personal goal to read every book on it. So far, I've read about a third.

This week is, if you've followed any of the links, Banned Books Week. It's as good a time as any to pick up a new book, or else dust off an old favorite. Chances are, some book you enjoyed is on any of the lists of challenged books floating around the Internet. Heck, if you broaden your criteria for "challenged" material, the list includes John Locke, The Canterbury Tales, Candide, and any number of Shakespeare's plays. There's a lot of good stuff out there that someone, sometime, somewhere, thought you shouldn't be able to read. Doesn't that just make you want to defy them?

Or if that won't, try this: Those books have been deemed subversive, sexually explicit, violent, offensive, and "too negative." Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

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