Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who's Afraid of A Banned Book?

In preparation of Banned Books week(September 22-28)  I am recycling some pieces I wrote early in my career as a Library/Media Specialist concerning censorship. Some things never change. As you read this and wonder about the archaic book references, please keep in mind this article is twenty years old.

The essay originally appeared in :
Moe. L. Who’s Afraid of Judy Blume? The Book Report March/April 1993

Funny thing about fiction: it’s the form of writing most often challenged by censors, yet it’s not true. The author made it up. It’s a lie. Never happened. So why are censors so afraid of it? Because in a way, fiction is true. Not true in the sense the story actually transpired. It could have happened, or parts of the story have occurred, such as the case in historical novels. Overall, the story came out of the writer’s vivid imagination. So why is it considered dangerous? Because good fiction is believable.

Fiction lets you crawl into someone else’s head, exploring their life experiences. Take the nocel Are You There God, It’s me Margaret? Along with Margaret, the reader feels the anguish of being different because unlike her friends, she has yet to develop breasts and her family doesn’t have a religion.

Through Scout’s eyes, To Kill a Mockingbird lets you be prejudiced and judgmental only to, after a sequence of events, make you change your mind about Boo Radley.

Fiction demonstrates that friends will come in strange, even ugly packages, such as in Theodore Taylor’s The Weirdo. Initially a friend may be an adversary like Mars Bar in Maniac Magee, and later become your best ally.

Historical fiction teaches facts and dates, but the lesson doesn’t stop there. In Empire of the Sun, you hear the roar of the Japanese bombers and the screams of people seeking shelter. You are hungry along with Jim in the prison camp as he subsists on one potato a day, and you understand how three years of imprisonment can numb you to the point where you don’t recognize your own parents. A good novel can also take you back in time, letting you live as Alexander the Great’s eunuch in Mary Renault’s Persian Boy.

You can explore another culture, as in Light In the Forest, a beautifully crafted novel where a white boy raised by Indians must choose between two cultures that hate each other and decide for himself his own identity and allegiance. Through good writing you can also learn to forgive, as Lee Botts forgave his parents for not being idea in Dear Mr. Henshaw.

Racism and prejudice are rooted in ignorance. That naiveté can be erased through understanding what makes another person tick. Fiction makes you see the humor, diversity and irony of life.

I’ve heard it said that you never fully understand another person’s culture until you speak his language. Through fiction, you not only speak another man’s tongue, you wear his clothes, eat his food and share his dreams. Through novels and short stories your horizons expand beyond the travelogue version of life.

Why is fiction so scary? Because good fiction is powerful. It can disturb your security, open your eyes to another viewpoint, and change your mind. Fiction also reminds us that we are flawed. Those imperfections make stories interesting.

Censors who challenge fiction are trying to protect you from viewpoints and ideas  that may disturb, upset or change you. Some novels will have bad language or rotten characters. Robert Cormier’s work is often challenged because he doesn’t supply happy endings. Life isn’t always fair or pretty. Good fiction is like real life.

As librarians it is our job to provide all viewpoints so that everyone’s story can be told.
Read a Banned Book. Follow this link for a list.

Happy Reading!

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