Monday, September 27, 2010

Speak Loudly

It is unfathomable to me that there are people who walk among us who still try to ban books. And yet, just this past month, someone-whose-name-doesn't-deserve-another-Google-hit tried to ban Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because he thinks rape is akin to pornography. (Remind me never to go on a date with that guy, by the way.) Ms. Anderson eloquently responded to the matter here.

This dirt bag caused the literary world to shake its head in annoyance, anger, and a little bit of laughter since, after all, the irony of trying to ban a book is that the minute you state your intentions, that book immediately becomes more widely read than it would have without the extra attention. He also has good timing because what better time to pick up a copy of Speak and other banned books than this week, the beginning of Banned Books Week?

There's a good NY Times article about ways to celebrate this week, and of course reading books that cause controversy are worth reading any time of year. Banned books are more than just sex scenes, even though the people who try to ban them are often too dense to understand that. Books that are questioned by the "authorities" are those that speak to a larger truth. Truth, obviously, is something that should be kept hidden from young minds so they grow into the world unprepared and, as a result, end up just as closed-minded and ignorant as book banners.

Banned books not only spark conversation and debate, but they are also the ones that usually go down in history labeled "classics." You can support these important titles by buying them and reading them, but as writers, you can support what they stand for by producing them yourselves. It should go without saying that no one sits down to write a novel with the intention of getting it banned. Scenes of violence or sex might cause controversy, but gratuitous or heavy-handed devices won't get you very far. Plus, readers see right through those flashy "look at me" tricks.

Instead, focus on the heart of these books. Don't shy away from topics that are difficult to write about and don't sugarcoat life's harsh realities. Sexual identity and orientation, racial tension, religious conflict (internal and external), domestic violence, and degradation are all important issues that teens and adults face. Use your words for issues that matter and support others who refuse to adhere to simply what is safe. If you can write, then you should speak.

6 comments:

  1. Good post, Sarah. Once when I taught school, I did some research on why books were banned. Besides the themes you mentioned, some were banned for the most arbitrary, paper-thin reasons. So, even though I may not agree with the content in some books others would like to ban, I can never agree with banning in principle because it condones banning without a shred of a principle. One of our faculty members at Wilkes, Jeff Talarigo, authored The Pearl Diver, which is banned in Japan. And yet, it is a testament to the spirit of the Japanese people more than an indictment of the government. It was a deeply moving book that I would never have had the chance to read in Japan. Very sad.

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  2. Every so often I go and look up what's on the various banned books lists. So often those lists read like a who's who of my favorite books of all time--I think I might even start treating them as recommendations!

    It's the books that reveal the most about the human condition that end up being banned. Why is it that exploration of what it means to be human is so fascinating to some, and so frightening to others?

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  3. Beautiful post! As much as banning books makes me angry, it makes me laugh a little, too, because it fails to achieve its goal so spectacularly. What a wrong-headed way of protecting kids--as though preventing them from learning about something will make sure they're never endangered by it! What we should be protecting our kids (and everyone else) from is ignorance.

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  4. Interestingly enough, the public library in Hoover, Alabama is displaying all the banned books on an exclusive set of bookshelves and are available for check out. And you're correct, in that more people swarmed this area because ooohhh...look at the scandalous banned books. I saw more than one person check out a book from this shelf.

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  5. @Anita - Exactly. I think the smartest thing my high school ever did during my senior year was put out a huge table in the English dept., unsupervised, with a sign that read "don't take these books!" It's where I acquired 1984, Candide, Of Human Bondage, and a Tale of Two Cities :)

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  6. Great post Sarah!! Banning books is like censoring the news...Real life gets down & dirty and the best books reflect that!

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