Let’s talk about banned books. The practice of banning or challenging books has been around for a long time. It is appalling to me, with as far as we have stretched the boundaries of knowledge, there are still factions which exist to limit the masses based on their own individual principles and mores, or at least that is their aim. I have no qualms with individuals making a determination to ban a particular book from their personal library, or banning their own children from reading a particular book. Where I have a problem with the concept of banning is when that same individual attempts to restrict my access to the same book.
Please note in my above statement, I referenced banning being acceptable from the standpoint of someone’s personal library, and not the public libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) takes a firm stand on the unconstitutionality of banning of books because it violates our First Amendment rights.
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. ~ Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.
Who is the target audience for the majority of the banned or challenged books? Primarily children and young adults. Challenges are generally motivated by a desire to protect children from inappropriate sexual content or offensive language. While I applaud the motivation, the assumption that the group who wishes to protect our youth knows what constitutes inappropriate or offensive content for each and every child or teen is laughable. Each child’s readiness to handle the content varies, and it is not possible to even designate by age guidelines. In an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights adopted by the ALA, the Free Access to Libraries for Minors states:
Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.
Another factor is that children and teens tend to self-regulate. If they are not ready to handle a particular topic or find something within a book to be offensive, they simply stop reading. In addition to this, sometimes the book which has deemed to be a bad influence, may have a positive effect. A prime example of this is Go Ask Alice which is perennially on the challenged or banned lists. Does this book have strong content and language? Absolutely. Does it discuss the drug culture and the effects of taking drugs? Again yes. Those who wish to ban this particular book feel by exposing youth to the content they could be harmed in some way. Maybe they feel using drugs would then become attractive. I can honestly say when I was young, the made-for-TV-movie, which we watched as a family, had a strong impact on me. Then later, for one of my classes, Go Ask Alice was required reading material, with the permission of parents.
The movie provided a safe environment to experience the content found between the covers of the book, and we discussed it in depth afterwards, so I thought I was amply prepared to meet the actual diary. There are parts of the book I skipped because I was not ready to handle the content (if the truth be known, I’m probably still not ready). But, the lasting impact of the story was a lifelong fear of recreational drug usage. Because of this one book, I have never once in my life been tempted when offered any street drugs. Effective book? Although unpleasant in places to read, I don’t have any regrets about reading it and will always be glad I did.
Banned Books Week is September 26–October 3, 2009. Get out there, read a banned book, and support intellectual freedom.
Posted on the LL Book Review