If you were invited to a party and were to find that people were drinking; doing drugs; engaged in immoral, criminal, or dangerous practices; or offering animal sacrifices to Satan in the next room, hopefully, you would have enough sense to GET OUT! The same is true of what you read…. With as many good books as there are available, there is no excuse for making bad choices. – Amelia Harper
The textbook for my Young Adult Literature class last semester had a chapter on the subject of banning books and how literature teachers can handle it. The whole chapter made me vaguely uncomfortable, and it took me a while to figure out why.
It’s not exactly that I support banning books. I don’t. I don’t think I have the right to enforce my values on the whole world (even though sometimes I think the world would be better off if I did).
I eventually figured out that what bothered me was the implicit idea that if a book has been banned, it must automatically be a valuable book to read because people who want to ban books are just idiots.
Not that that was ever said in so many words. But that’s what it felt like the authors were saying.
Frankly, that’s ridiculous.
For example. One book we had to read for that class was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I knew nothing about it before this class, and I kind of wish I still didn’t. This is a book that has been banned, and almost as soon as I started reading, I understood why. There were more than 20 swear words in the first chapter.
I was Not Impressed.
I was especially Not Impressed that a teacher at a Christian university would think that was acceptable.
Now, I can – and do – put up with some swearing in something I otherwise like. But that amount is just absurd.
Would I want to forbid the rest of the world to read it? No, though I would discourage reading it.
That’s all well and good. But many people seem to want to take it to the opposite extreme, for Of Mice and Men is also considered a classic. “Oh, it has an excessive amount of profanity, but it’s such a powerfully written book that we should make kids read it anyway.”
Um, no. That’s terrible reasoning. Was it a powerfully written book? Yes. Very. But you know what? There are millions of books in the world. I guarantee you that you can find some that are powerfully written that don’t have more than 20 swear words in the first chapter.
I did briefly mention the issue to my teacher, but we had already kind of discussed the topic with the last book we had read, with which I had similar grievances. I had told her politely but very firmly that I hadn’t appreciated some of the content. (I’ve gotten surprisingly brave about telling teachers what I think. It’s kind of fun.) She said that we had been going to talk about how someone might approach teaching such things, and that apparently I just wouldn’t teach it. Certainly not. I don’t want it in my head, so why would I want to force it into someone else’s?
I feel like I’ve rambled a bit in this post, but here’s my point: If at some point someone has thought a book inappropriate enough to want to ban it, that doesn’t automatically make the book a paragon of worthiness that such people simply can’t understand. So let’s stop operating under that assumption.