Saturday, September 26, 2009

Banned Books Week Begins Today

"Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them." from the ALA website

Today marks the start of Banned Books Week, an international event that celebrates books that have been frequently banned or challenged in so-called free nations like ours because of their content, suggestions, or simply their use of language. As an author and book lover, this is obviously a subject that's very important to me. But it's even more important to me as a person. The idea of censoring thought is one of the most despicable concepts that I can imagine...the one place where freedom needs to be absolute is in our thoughts.

The reasoning behind banning or challenging books is to protect people for potentially dangerous ideas. I suppose in its roots, it goes back to the notion of temptation by the devil, but the whole concept is absurd. Even in the Biblical teachings, there's nothing to suggest the world could or should, be free of temptation because morality needs to be tested in order to hold any conviction. People need to be free to make up their own minds about subjects otherwise their opinions are hallow and empty. 

The majority of books in our society that are challenged are generally children's books or books for teenagers, to keep kids from encountering things that may be upsetting. Now, I'm all for that...but that is not the job of society, or PTA's or School Boards, or local governments. It's the job of individual parents to decide what is or isn't appropriate for their child. If they find something unsuitable, that's their right. But there is no excuse for any self-righteous behavior that pushes their judgement on others.

Personally, I've always been of the opinion that encountering upsetting things in books is better than facing them in real life. Books provide an insight to situations that allow readers to experience things at a distance. And for the most part, the subjects that are most challenged are subjects that readers will more than likely encounter or already have (drugs, sex, and hatred). Not so coincidentally, these are also subjects that often only get talked about in hushed whispers in most families. So in many ways, books can provide reflection that otherwise isn't there.

I've had some first-hand experience with challenged books thanks to my first novel, Pure Sunshine, which is essentially a record of LCD experiences among teenage friends over the period of two days. Needless to say, it's not necessarily a favorite among some parents, teachers, or social crusaders.

    The sun fell from the sky to go and sleep elsewhere. It was a surrender of sorts, a passing of its reign for the moon to awake. And I lived for that in-between transience when the glass buildings reflected the brilliance of twilight, when the sky was swept with a short and sudden color of flames before fading dull and gray. I waited. On the park bench, I faced the clouds and waited for that perfect moment when the drugs take over.   page 1

Because the book takes no moral stance on the characters' drug use, instead trying to capture the real experience, this book has often been criticized for glorifying drug use (though, in my opinion there's a lot un-glorifying moments as well). There is a fear that teenagers reading a book like this, devoid of some heavy-handed "Just Say No" message, will run right out and take acid. To me, that seems ridiculous. I would argue that the kid who would do that, would do it anyway. And over the years, more teens have actually written to me with the opposite response...that after reading the book, their curiosity had been satisfied and that they had no desire to try the drug. I think we need to be more trusting of people to make the right decision...granted a lot of times that won't happen. But regardless, I don't think anything sets people to make wrong decisions more than trying to force a so-called "correct" one upon them. 

 If you yourself a favor this week and read a dangerous book. You can find a list here.

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