“Did you ever hear anyone say, ‘That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me.’?” Joseph Henry Jackson (1894-1955) in the San Francisco Chronicle (1953)
There’s a red circle around that quote (among scores of others) in my Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. It was summer, I was fourteen and looking for light. I found it in Bartlett. Sentence after paragraph culled from its pages worked to dislodge me from childhood, discover and armor my own beliefs against perceived and real injustices, parental bans, hurts and longings. John Bartlett’s collection opened my conservative, small-town world and mind, encouraging my increasing bids for freedom.
Despite my experience, when my daughter reached pre-teens, I cultivated lots of opinions about the world around her. The one cloaking her days (or trying to) with some views, behaviors, and fads I neither shared nor approved. In a busy life of work, school, and raising her, it was easier to say, “Not for you, not now,” or “because I said so,” without much discussion. I wish she’d heard more often, “Tell me about it. What interests you?” and “This is what interests or bothers me.”
Sometimes parents, rightly, have to invoke the dreaded, “No.” As I used to tell her, “It’s part of my job.” Operating as source material for her hurt or anger was tough. Still, enough of my lines in the sand were, for lack of a better term, “right,” even by her, now adult, reflections. What I regret is not letting her stretch the leash farther, take more risks while I risked freeing more of my fears, then watched, and waited. And talked less. Maybe she could have, like me with my Bartlett’s, tested her changing world against her own thoughts, backed by someone she trusted. Someone who got out of her way as far as she needed, and no further.
There are books I don’t enjoy, some pushed at kids, or ones they seem to feed on. Ones I rail privately against. But ask a library to ban a book? Never. Not in a million, ziliion years. Growing up means finding your own way, building and knowing your own mind, owning your own life. Books support the journey. Books we cherish, ones that bore, even ones we despise. Books teach us how to stand separate and manage our part of life’s whole–our place in earth’s community. To broadly paraphrase Gary Snyder from The Practice of the Wild: we start as children at the fire pit called home, “from which all tentative explorations go outward…and it is back to the fireside that elders return.”
I’m buying at least one banned book today.
The American Library Association’s list of frequently banned or challenged books. How many have you read? Are you surprised to find your favorites on a list? Leave them in the comment section
Interested in the “reasoning” behind bans or challenges to the “Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century”? (Radcliff Publishing Course). Or at Banned Books Awareness.
Here are a few of my favorite children’s/young adult books on the lists:
The Lorax, by Dr. Suess; A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein; Strega Nona, by Tomie DePaola; Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak; Charlotte’s Web by E.B White; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou; Lord of the Flies by William Golding; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.