Thursday, March 17, 2011

Graphic scenes and dangerous books

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It's early for this, but I can't write this post without mentioning Banned Book Week. If you're like me, you're going to go to your calendar now and mark September 25 to October 1 and add a bunch of banned books to your Goodreads queue. If you look at that list, you'll probably recognize a lot of the titles from English courses in high school and college. Those crazy teachers, always trying to corrupt America's youth.

I think the reasons for books being banned or challenged would be entertaining if they weren't taken seriously enough to limit access to beautiful works of literature when people need them the most. The recurring themes I see are language and sex. Interestingly, it appears that Orwell's 1984 was banned for being pro-communist. Um, did I miss something? I might have been kind of distracted while I read that book on my commute between Philly and Princeton Junction, but I don't think Orwell meant it as pro-communist. Sorry.

Of course, this brings me to another point: obviously, the people who challenge these books don't read and want to deprive the rest of us from enjoying a good book. Sexually explicit content? Language? Seriously? Obviously, the crazies who challenge books on this basis have never read anything by Nora Roberts or Stephen King. Also, considering that the most passionate book banners out there love to talk about how many kids they have, I'm sure they've had sex a few times, and, they've probably heard someone swear at least once before. Call me weird, but if swearing and sex were the biggest things we had to worry about, I'd be a happy girl.

For anyone who likes keeping score, if you're looking for a "literary" book with a lot of sex in it, try Endless Love. It has several love scenes, but the most substantial one runs for about 20 pages. Beat that! I dare you. I leave it to you to figure out which book as the most swearing. A lot of authors seem to enjoy their F-bombs and other four-letter words. I know I do.

Okay, but moving beyond the silly stuff, aren't there real things to be concerned about with books, especially books for young people? I hope so! I hope children, teens, and adults are never too jaded to be surprised and enlightened by literature, but with that comes the risk that someone might use a literary work or another piece of art as an excuse or justification for a horrible act. I don't think books make people do anything. I think people can force other people to do things, like forgo the opportunity to read a book that could turn a reluctant reader into an avid reader, or make an outcast finally feel understood. I don't believe in dangerous books. I do believe in dangerous people.

So provoked me to write this post when Banned Book Week is still six months away? I read 13 Reasons Why and was concerned that some teenagers might interpret the story as suicide being justified in what appears to be a hopeless situation. That is not what the story means, and it's a wonderful book, but when I read something like that, I worry because, as I pointed out before, a lot of stupid people have opinions that seem to count more than they should.

When I shared my concerns about 13 Reasons Why with a friend, she asked if I thought it was a dangerous book. I was floored! I would never say a book is dangerous. Maybe, if we're talking about a copy of Webster's International Dictionary  being used as a projectile, I would make an exception, but I don't think it will be banned. I just think school libraries are too underfunded to purchase copies of it because our national attitude toward education is atrocious.