When I was young, I had a notebook for writing music and on the cover was an eagle carrying a branch in it’s claws with a banner beneath it stating Banned in Boston. This sparked my awakening to banning, not only to music, but in all of its forms. During the same time frame I was absolutely incensed by an article I read about the banning and burning of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was incensed. How could anyone argue to burn a book by one of my favorite authors. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was currently one of my read and re-read favorites. The controversy over the book and whether it should be banned, and yes, it was actually removed from the school’s for a period of time, made me determined to read it. I didn’t have far to go, as my mother is an inveterate reader and book buyer, I was sure I would find the book somewhere in the house and I was right. After reading the book, I couldn’t figure out what all of the hoopla was about. Sure, Twain used words which could be considered inflammatory or racist, if they were taken out of context, but in context those same words actually conveyed the contempt for their usage. This is the issue with the majority of books which are challenged or banned.
For those out there who take the stance that since the book is available somewhere in the world, then it can not possibly be banned, let me say hogwash! Banning has historically been done by location, hence the phrase Banned in Boston. Banning is the restriction to an item, whether it be music, books, art, or anything else for that matter, within a locale. The decision as to whether or not I should read a particular book or not should not be decided by anyone other than me or (when I was young) my parents. The decision should be made from a position of knowledge and looking at the context of the work rather than simply an overview of the words which may be objectionable. A current example of the absurdity of banning is what has happened to Ellen Hopkins because of her bestselling novels Crank and Glass which are loosely based on her daughter’s struggle with methamphetamine abuse. Ellen was scheduled to give a talk at a middle school in Norman, OK and because a child’s parents objected to the books and they were being reviewed, the superintendent also cancelled the talk. This is outrageous. Even though the books were going through a review process, what possible harm did they think Ellen would do in a few hours chat with school children, keeping in mind she has given talks across the nation with no adverse incidents. This is a woman who wrote about something intensely personal to her, and would be the last person on earth to glamourize addiction. The books were written with the aim of potentially stopping a child from going down that path, if possible. Again, context seems to be the issue. Do the child’s parents who objected to the books have every right to object to their child reading them? Absolutely. Do they have the right to keep them from being read by other children? Absolutely not!
Several of the groups who seem to speak out against books and want them to be removed, tend to do so from the high ground of morality, or so they think. While not all calls for banning stem from religious zealots, quite a number do, which to me becomes ironic. Most religions have suffered over the years of having been banned or have been the focus of persecution at some point in their history, even in to current day. You would think somewhere along the line we would learn from history and develop some tolerance. But tolerance of the right for others to hold beliefs different to ours still seems to be a long way off.
Let’s continue the fight against intolerance and celebrate Banned Book Week by reading a banned or challenged book. I’m going to support Ellen Hopkins by reading one of her books. Ellen is also the writer of the Manifesto adopted for Banned Book Week. Banned Books Week is September 26–October 3, 2009.
Posted for the LL Book Review