They’ve been popping up all over my reader all week, and I’m sure they’re all over yours too. Impossible not to notice them. I’m talking about references to the Banned Books Week. (If you don’t know what that is, do click through on that link and/or on the badge below. The issue is censorship, and I do feel that we should all be more aware of it.)
Wonder why I didn’t take part in the celebration? I’ll tell you:
I do not agree with Banned Books Week.
There. I said it.
Now, before you bite my head off, let me say right from the start that I am not an advocate for censorship, not at all.
I firmly believe in freedom of speech, which means that everybody has the right to say what they think, and to write it in a book, and to see their book published, and everybody has the right to buy and read those books, and to share them and talk about them.
Which is not yet the case in so many places. I assure you that I am well aware of it. And I commend ALA (and many other library associations) and I can even commend the Banned Books Week for their work in unveiling censorship in all its forms. For raising awareness about those books that are censored and challenged and banned in our so-called very liberal Western society. It is important, we do need to keep our eyes open.
So the Banned Book Week is good. Right? Right.
But there are reasons that make me want to distance myself from it. Two reasons, mainly.
Reason #1: Just Because It’s Banned, Doesn’t Make It Good
The badge by epicreads.com, below, sums up the whole of my point here:
“Someone banned me, so read me maybe?” Errr… no? When I choose to read a book, it’s because I hope it’s good (don’t we all?) and being challenged or banned does not necessarily make it so.
If you look at the “most frequently challenged books” lists, there are masterpieces like The Call of the Wild by Jack London, but there are OK books like The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and there are awful books like His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. (I know not everybody will agree with my classification here, but I’m sure you can find books you love and books you hate on those lists too.) Therefore no, being challenged is not a parameter I will take into consideration when choosing my next book.
Reason #2: Not All Bans Are Created Equal
The Banned Books Week celebrates all the books that are somehow challenged or banned, but I believe there is a huge difference in nuance. Take for instance:
- an author that is completely banned from a country because of what he has written
- a library that removes books by a certain author because they are on different sides, politically
- a movement that calls for book burning of a very specific title for any given reason
- a parent that challenges the teacher’s decision to read a certain book in class, because he/she thinks that his/her son is not ready yet for that kind of content.
Do you think these are all equal? Because I don’t.
And when you look at the Banned Books Week stats page and cross the data, you’ll see that most challenges classified there are like my #4: initiated by a parent, against a school, because a book is supposedly unsuited to age group or sexually explicit. And guess what? I believe parents are still the ones in charge of educating and guiding their children, which includes guiding them through good books that are suitable for them.
I know I’m walking a thin line here. I know it’s a risk, I know how a narrow-minded parent could ban any and every book from their children and raise them as fundamentalists. I know there are many unreasonable people like that out there. But I still believe there is a greater risk in the opposite way, in ruling against parental control and parental decision.
And I am not a mother (yet), but if I went to my teenage daughter’s school and found the 50 shades books on the shelves, then yes, I would challenge them.
That’s why I don’t totally agree with this week celebration.
Will you tell me I’m wrong?