Okay, so I don’t really think banning books is a good idea. Ever. But I do see a few things that happen when people ban books.
1. We get great events liked Banned Books Week, which begins today. And so then, more people hear about these banned books than might have been the case if they hadn’t been banned in the first place.
2. Rebellious spirits like me regard lists of banned books as “to be read” lists, thus upping again the number of readers for those titles.
3. Good conversations begin about censorship and art and the difference between discretion and appropriate content and outright censorship.
So in all, the banning of books may have just the opposite effect as those banners intend – i.e. more people read the banned titles.
However, I still think censorship is unwise at best and dangerous at worst. Every time we censor a book, we say that someone else’s story should not be available to other people. As a big proponent of everyone’s stories, I think they should be widely and wildly available to everyone. All the time.
You see, often the stories we choose to ban are ones that challenge our privilege – Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Walls’ The Glass Castle. These books urge us to see with other lenses – to recognize the challenges of racism, to acknowledge violence and sexual identity in teenagers, to understand poverty and mental health – and those are hard things to deal with much less deal with responsibly – so rather than deal, we ban. Every time we ban a book we tell the person whose story is told in those pages – be that person the writer or the reader who finds herself finally portrayed there – that they are not worthy of time and that they are dangerous and shameful.
What a wonder it would be if we stopped banning books because they scared us and, instead, starting having conversations about what racism really looks like, what sexual identity means to a young man, what mental health struggles do to a family. What if we talked with our children about these difficult things instead of sheltering them from them? What if we trusted each other to make good decision about what to read and what to give our children access to read?
In essence, what would it look like if our society decided that words and ideas and experience weren’t really the dangerous things? And instead put the blame of danger on ignorance and fear?
So all hail Banned Books Week. May you never have to exist again.
You can get some great lists of banned books here – http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks.