Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Banned Books Week

In honor of intellectual freedom and ALA Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct 3), I'm making a plug for reading a banned book this week. You'd be astounded at some of the books on the ALA's banned list: Where the Wild Things Are, Speak, Harry Potter, Golden Compass, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bridge to Terabithia, Farenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, and the Gutenberg Bible, to name a few. Some of my favorite books have landed their authors in jail, including the wonderful Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka. Call of the Wild was burned in Nazi bonfires.

I'm admittedly conservative about the books I'd personally hand to a young child; I believe, like Corrie Ten Boom's father (the Hiding Place), that some subjects are too heavy to ask young children to carry, just as a large suitcase might be. But that's a decision for individual caretakers to make for their own children, not for other people's. And I get angry when others try to make that choice for me. Often when people push for a book to be banned, they do it out of ignorance: they don't even know what's in it (Golden Compass, for instance), or don't understand it (Lord of the Rings, burned by a religious group for being satanic). Let me choose for my kid; you choose for yours. Once a child reaches his teens and is not so emotionally delicate, some books are simply too important to protect a child from, and when we ban books by authors like Huxley, Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner, what we end up protecting most is supreme ignorance.

Growing up with a Russian professor father during the 1970s, I heard a lot about book banning issues and the fear of getting caught reading the wrong books in Soviet Russia. I knew my dad's Russian Bible was lovingly (and furtively) passed around the congregation when he brought it to an Orthodox church in Moscow, which only old people with little to lose dared attend. I always felt grateful American intellectuals didn't have to hide (except ironically during the insane anti-communist McCarthy era--funny how similar methods were used by both Communist governments and communist-fearing groups) or risk getting shipped off to Siberia, and I admired the Russian Intelligencia who wrote anyway, because they believed in speaking the truth, regardless of consequences.

So read a banned book this week and join librarians, writers and book people everywhere in speaking out for freedom to speak and write truth as we see it, and to make our own judgements and let others make theirs. Gotta love that first Amendment.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you! It's a true shame when ignorance smothers imagination. I understand making decisions for your own child (and even then, someday they need to choose for themselves) but banning books? That's just ridiculous.

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