Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Don't read this": some witty advice on reading banned books

For many localities, it's back-to-school week already, and with the return to classes comes the annual specter of reading outrage by young or (usually) old. Perennial favorites will be assigned, read, and inadvertently re-discovered as targets for censorship or outright ban, usually by individuals who didn't read the books in school themselves years ago in the first place. 

Reading banned books, of course, becomes the illicit thrill of discovery. There are traps for unsuspecting readers on every page: "inappropriate" language, "desensitizing" violence, "stimulating" stories. The idea of reading "exciting" literature, for young and old alike, has made folks crack open books from Twain's Huckleberry Finn to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis 

As Anna Quindlen comments,"And then there's Faulkner. Oy."

Quindlen wrote a witty column for Banned Books Week in 1994 in which she outlines a week's worth of reading censored books, and comes to a "wonderful end to a depressing week" -- she re-reads Bridge to Terabithia and finds it even better. Her final recommendation? Tell kids there are certain books not to be read, and then watch the reading scores soar. If only.

Monday: Begin Banned Books Week by reading Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, which parents in several school districts have tried to remove from required reading lists. Weep copiously at realistic tale of friendship and loss among children. ... 
Discover that Terabithia caused such a stink in Oskaloosa, Kan., that the school board has required teachers to list each profanity in any book they assign and how many times the profanity is used. Page through book. Find a "damn" and write it down. Feel like a fool. "I hate to say it, but sometimes grown-ups are really stupid," says oldest child. ...
Tuesday: Read reams of material about the banning of In the Night Kitchen, fanciful account of dreams of little boy by Maurice Sendak. Boy falls out of clothes, is naked, has penis. Penis has been described as "desensitizing children to nudity" (Beloit, Wis.), "nudity for no purpose" (Norridge, Ill.) and "the foundation for future use of pornography" (Elk River, Minn.). In Missouri copies of book were distributed to kindergarten class after artist was commissioned to draw shorts on boy. ...
Wednesday: Contemplate bookshelves in office. Moby Dick encourages whale hunting, Anna Karenina adultery, Shakespeare teen suicide, usury and the occult. Faulkner, oy. ... Realize cat with hat encourages children to make a mess while mother is out. Discover in American Library Association Banned Books Week literature that the Bible was challenged as "obscene and pornographic" at library in Fairbanks, Alaska. Fear for future of human race.
Library Association sends information on case in Wyoming challenging Judy Blume book Forever. Judy reigning Queen of banned books, maybe because writes books about teen-agers in which they talk and think like actual teen-agers as opposed to adult's idea of what teen-agers should be like. (How quickly we forget.) Parent complained Forever contains sex described graphically. Spells graphically "grafically."

Read that parent in Lambertville, N.J., objected to The Amazing Bone by William Steig, because animals use tobacco. Love Steig, love Bone, hate tobacco. Heart sinks. Reports of censorship at highest mark in last 10 years. Find myself counting uses of Lord's name in vain in Catcher. Read dictionary instead. ...
Consider entire K-12 curriculum of banned books, beginning with Night Kitchen ... Great stuff all. Foolproof pedagogical method: tell students they cannot, repeat, CANNOT, read these books. Too stimulating. Watch reading scores soar. Next stop, Faulkner. .. Decide oldest child is right. Reread Bridge to Terabithia. Even better the second time.

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