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On Banning Books

on December 27, 2012

On Banning Books

            “Read a few lines and off you go over the cliff. Bang, you’re ready to blow up the world, chop off heads, knock down women and children, destroy authority.” –Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

Remember that book Fahrenheit 451? You know, the one by that guy who hated technology. And it was about how when people stop reading books, the entire society will get dumber and we will all eventually just sit around all day and watch TV and just not care about anything, ever? Well… there’s some truth to that.

This does not mean there will literally be an organization that refers to themselves as “firemen” coming to your house to burn your private library. However, everyday there are people crying for books to be taken out of libraries.

Historically, people who try to censor are do it for the best intentions. The book doesn’t agree with their stances on religion (Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species), or it might be uncomfortable sexual themes (Vladimir Nobokov’s Lolita), or it showcases some newer, more progressive social ideas (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World). When they try to censor, they are not going to damage, they are trying to protect. (Karolides et al)

It is not that I do not think that people have the right to pick and chose what they’re child is aloud to read.  I think it is the parent’s right to decide what it appropriate for their child to read.  If the parent decides that a book assigned by the school is not appropriate for their child, they have the right to bring their concerns to the school and ask for an alternate reading, or for them to take another look at the book if they feel like it is way off the mark of what they consider appropriate for the child’s age level.

That being said, there seems to be a common series of events that happens when a book goes under attack: first, the kid will come home with the book, the parent will take a look at it and deem it inappropriate for their child to read.

Now, here’s the part where the well-meaning parent steps over the line: though the school will typically say that the child can have an alternate assignment to read, which the parent then decides that since they believe that the book is inappropriate for their child, then it is inappropriate for all the children in the grade. And thus, they call for a ban on the book.

As much I understand the mentality of the parents need to protect their child from harmful themes, I never got the logic of “How dare they force my child to read a book I don’t approve of? I’m going to fight this by trying to have a say in what all the other children get to read to stop this infringement of my rights!”

But here’s the thing: most books have passages that sound really bad when you take them out of context. If you only read the questionable parts, then a book about the lives of a poor Southern family carrying their mother to her final resting place then becomes a book about abortion that has curse words every other page. Or a novel commenting on the poor treatment of African-Americans before and after the abolishment of slavery turns into an uncomfortable and offensive pile of filth due to the frequent inclusion of one very powerful word. Or one of the most powerful books against Communism of all time turns into smut because of one chapter.

Here’s all I ask: if you think that a book may not be suitable for your kid, do the rest of us a huge favor: read it first.

No really, if you’re right and it is not something you feel students should be reading, then you can bring your case to the school board intelligently and with a strong argument. If not, well you probably just read a good work of fiction. You win both ways, right?

When these well-meaning parents demand the book to be censored, they are helping no one, least of all themselves. Censorship helps no one, information needs to be spread, ideas need to grow, people need to experience for themselves. All censorship does is stifle ideas, which is something that I don’t think Mr. Bradbury would approve of.

Let me sum it up for you like this: the absolute and best argument against censorship is:

 censored photo

And this is what prompted me to announce this a new series here on Textual Details: The 100 Banned Books Series, in which myself and two other smart, funny people take a look at some of the most banned books in the history of literature.

From Lolita to Animal Farm, from Galileo to Stephen King, and from the Karma Sutra to the Bible itself, every other week there will be a post in the 100 Banned Books Series.  Meanwhile, there will also be more modern posts, starting with Darren Shan’s other famous young adult book series,  The Demonata.  However, first we will have a couple of end of the year countdowns, everybody loves those, right? And finally, next summer I have another surprise in store, but you’ll have to wait until then to find out what it is.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year, and I hope you will join me for another great year at Textual Details!


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