In case you haven't been bombarded with emails as I have, this is banned book week, a time to celebrate intellectual freedom. If you search on Google you can find lists of books that have been banned over time, everything from Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird to Gone with the Wind. Probably the classic some of us oldsters remember is Lady Chatterly's Lover--scandalous in its time. Some of the classics of our time and earlier times are on that list. Why are they banned? Often because parents, trying to protect their children from evil, protest to school boards. Lauren Myracle, an author of young adult books, calls herself America's number one most challenged author in the country in 2009. She writes about a young girl kissing another girl, a fifth grader with two moms, high school kids drinking too much and doing stupid things--and, yes, tampons.
In a wonderful column today in Shelf Awareness, an online newsletter for booksellers, she says the banned book argument often boils down to us (liberal thinkers) and them (conservative thinkers who go to church every Sunday, buy into conspiracy theories, and say, "Hell, yeah" when Rush Limbaugh mocks universal health care.) The division is not quite that simple. Myracle identifies hereself as a person of faith, a Christian who sings in her church choir. I have to agree that I identify myself as a person of faith and am proud to say I'm a Christian. But I'm not a Christian for book banning. Questioning is an essential part of faith, and if we are to lead meaningful lives we have to have intellectural freedom. Nothing irritates me more than people who think they can tell me what's right for them and for me--from banned books to abortion to politics.
If you want to read the entire column, and it's thought-provoking, try to find today's Shelf Awareness on google (the full URL didn't print out, so I can't help much there).
A schoolteacher once told me that my very first young-adult novel, After Pa WAs Shot, would be banned if her superintendent read it, because I used the word "Kike" in it. The novel was set in East Texas in the late nineteenth century when Jewish immigrants landed in Galveston and made their way north to smaller towns. The word certainly did reflect my feelings but it was appropriate to time and place. I laughed aloud at the idea of me, Pollyanna, being banned.
On the Sisters in Crime listserv there's been much talk about banned books, and one author challenged each of us by asking what banned book we were going to read this week. I'm reading a really grisly novel, not my usual choice, so maybe that counts. Interestingly enough it also has an Amish background. But if I were going to reread one it would be To Kill a Mockinbird. I'm itching for my eleven-year-old granddaughter to be old enough to read it.
Many bookstores this week will have displays of banned books. Stop by, browse, and pick one up. See how you feel about banned books, intellectural freedom, and faith. I think they're all part of the mix. And here's a cheer for Lauren Myracle.