I still remember the first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird. It was one of the only English books at the used bookstore I went to with my father in Paris, and we bought it, and I sat in the hotel room all night reading it, because it was just that kind of book for me.
I realize it’s frequently assigned in schools and so forth and that some people may feel it’s overused, or that there are better works of fiction on similar issues elsewhere, but something about the book struck a chord with me. I still re-read it now and then, and I force friends who haven’t read it yet to do so. It speaks to me in simple words about serious things, and Harper Lee painted a compelling picture of life in a small Southern town which reminded me in many ways of home when I was thousands of miles away.
So I was surprised to hear that the book has a history of being challenged on racist grounds. God forbid that a Pulitzer Prize Winning book on racism use racial slurs.
We’re gearing up for Banned Books Week and I’ve been trolling through the list of banned texts which we are now (more or less) free to read. I intend to celebrate by reading as many banned books as possible during banned books week, myself.
Interestingly, the bulk of challenged books are books for children, some of which deal with complex issues that apparently some people don’t want their children exposed to in text form. Always better, I say, for children to actually experience things rather than reading about them first, to prepare. Topping the list this year was It’s Perfectly Normal, an awesome book about bodies, body image, sexuality, and so on. There’s a sweet spread in the middle of the book of a number of naked people displaying different body types, and apparently this upsets the right, deeply.
Catcher in the Rye, of course, is a perennial favourite for banning and challenge, making it to the top ten list pretty much every year.
I’m fortunate enough to have had bad ass librarians in my life, who were only too happy to provide me with copies of 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Invisible Man, In Cold Blood, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Catch 22, Heart of Darkness, and countless other books with a history of being challenged. Librarians have a sacred duty to disseminate inflammatory material and luckily most of them obey this duty.
What can you do for banned books week, other than reading formerly banned and currently challenged books?
Challenge people who are questioning freedom of access to reading material in your community. Sneak copies of incendiary books into the middle school library. Debate and defend everyone’s right to read whatever they please, and then take advantage of that right to stroll down the street reading Delta of Venus.
Challenge the status quo, and keep the damn right wing out of our libraries!