Banned Books Week

A friend reminded me it’s Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association:

“Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

The ALA even provides a list of banned books: See it here.

My first response was to laugh at the irony. You see, my first experiences with banned books came from school teachers and librarians.

A little background. My mother had a fondness for “trashy” novels. Science fiction, potboilers, bodice rippers, Hollywood roman a clef. She hid them in her bedroom, away from my childish eyes. So I stole them. I got away with it, too, until I made the mistake of taking one to school. I was in the third grade. I don’t remember much about third grade except for the time when Mrs. Robertson confiscated a purloined book. Mom loved Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and other giants of science fiction. I loved them, too. Brilliant fiction, wonderful story telling. Unfortunately the publisher must have considered it “trashy” because this is the cover on the original Glory Road.

(Oh. My. God. A naked woman!)

Mrs. Robertson was horrified, furious and outraged I’d brought such trash into her classroom. Yoink! I was sent to the principal for that one. A note was sent home. By then I was well enough along in my life of crime to forge my father’s handwriting and signature so my parents never found out. Did I learn my lesson? Oh hell yes. I learned Mrs. Robertson was the enemy and to keep a very close eye on her.

It didn’t end there. I think third grade was the same year I got my very own library card. The public library. The Big Time. Unfortunately, it was a kid’s card. A kid’s card meant that not only was I limited to two check-outs at a time, I was relegated to the kid’s section and forbidden entry into the main library where all the good stuff was. I wanted meat. I wanted action and sword fights and grand adventures and romance and quotable dialogue. It didn’t take me long to plow through all the fiction deemed acceptable for children. I devoured Alcott, Kipling, London, White, Twain and Dickens. Two or three times a week I was on my bicycle, pedaling toward the library to grab two more books. But how I hungered for the forbidden fruit beyond the safe environs of the childrens’ section. Eventually I learned to forge my mother’s handwriting and signature (tougher than my father’s who is left-handed and an engineer, so his handwriting is more like printing). So began the summer when my poor mother had a broken leg.

“Dear Librarian. I have a broken leg and cannot come to the library. I am in bed all summer long and I need books to read. I authorize my child to check out books for me. Thank you.”

A sob story and a grown-up library card stolen from my mother gained me entry into the world of real books.

Did reading Frank Yerby, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and other “adult” books hurt me? I guess it depends upon you ask. (and notice I’m glossing over the sneaking, stealing, lying, forging, etc.) I’m not in prison. Never killed anyone. I pay my taxes and never litter.

I never “banned” books for my kids, either. I didn’t hide away “racy” novels or discourage them from reading anything I’d read myself. My daughter was a bigger reader than my son was, but both enjoy reading as a pastime. They turned out okay. (all right, a tad disappointed in my son who has this corporate specialist regulatory big deal job when I was really hoping he’d grow up to be a rock star or a mad poet, but a mother can’t have everything, I suppose). I might have gotten a bit excited if I’d found pornography, but only because it’s nasty and I don’t want it in my house. I consider it a mistake to deem a work of fiction “too old” for a child. Or to ghettoize childrens’ literature. Kids are perfectly capable of determining what’s suitable and what isn’t. If it isn’t suitable, they won’t get it and it will bore them and they won’t read it. See how easy that is? I sure don’t see the point of protecting kids from the realities of life. What? They turn eighteen and then the parents say, “Oh, by the way, we wanted you to be old enough to know before we clued you in that the world is full of racism, hatred, Nazis, sex abusers, addicts, screw-ups, criminals, fools and politicians. Thought you might like to know.” Fiction is a safe way to explore the darker side of life.

By the way, Mrs. Robertson, if you’re still out there, know this. You didn’t stop me from reading forbidden fiction. You just made me more adept at hiding. So neener-neener.

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4 responses

  1. “Fiction is a safe way to explore the darker side of life.”
    I was at an author reading/panel a few weeks ago, and the subject of possibly too-dark YA stuff came, and one of the authors said exactly that. Truer words were never said.

    I love Glory Road, and your story is funny and inspiring! I remember teachers trying to confiscate VC Andrews when I was in junior high school. so we all just learned how to hide them better too!

  2. Oh geez, Mrs. Robertson would have HATED V.C. Andrews!

    Personally, I’m just happy when kids read period. Beats video games and television hands down.

  3. For me, it was 6th grade and it was Glory in the Morning. I should have left it at home that day. The teacher didn’t keep it. She eventually gave it back to my mother and a healthy lecture followed. Oddly, I never saw the book again.

    My grandmother read quite a bit and I’d found it on her book shelf. She loaned it to me, and I’m sure she really didn’t give it thorough consideration before she let me take it…which means, she was probably cooking dinner or washing up after and just said ‘yes’.

    Great book. Read it many times. Wish I could find it now, At the time, I remember it as being full of romance and love and rather naughty in places….and I knew it would most certainly be forbidden to me if any adult found out I was reading it. Today, I’m sure it would just be a GREAT romance novel.

  4. Ah, yes, the corrupting influence of a grandmother’s book shelf. My grandmother subscribed to book clubs. Mostly romance novels and detective potboilers. I spent my summers with my nose buried in deliciously “naughty” books.

    I occasionally run across favorites from long ago. A few of them stand up to the test of time. A few I wish I’d left in the memory banks.

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