Who knew I’d been reading Missy such awful stuff at bedtime?
It’s been almost three and a half years now since I began reading to Missy, my wife’s developmentally disabled aunt who’s been a combination of sister, daughter and gleeful friend ever since we became her guardians. We’ve devoured a small library in that time, from the funny to the fantastic.
But maybe we’ve been warping her brain. After all, almost every title we’ve picked has been yanked off the shelves by somebody, somewhere.
Things like that horrid “Wizard of Oz,” dinged for too much negativism.
Or the puzzle-mystery of “The Westing Game,” which apparently shocked at least one parent with its “violence.”
And of course, there’s those utterly irredeemable Harry Potter books, challenged in location after location for supporting occultism. (A curious charge against an author from the Church of Scotland, but there you are.)
But that’s the fun of Banned Books Week. There’s something in it for everyone.
I’ve been a fan of Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27 this year) for a long time. Which itself is remarkable, since while I’m often fascinated by designated “days” and “weeks,” I’m usually horrible at observing them. I remember Talk Like A Pirate Day only long after my geekiest friends have stopped sounding like a cut-rate Captain Blood. (“Arr, took me car in f’r an oil change, matey!”) It takes me at least 3.14 reminders to tease people about Pi Day. And I really will take the time to celebrate National Procrastination Week – one of these days.
But this one’s different.
I’d like to say it’s because I’m the son of a teacher and a literary omnivore, which is true. I’ve consumed the printed word since the age of two and a half. Around me, talk of banning books is a little like taking a dog’s food dish away at meal time – not advisable.
But that only goes so far.
I’d like to say it’s because it’s a challenge that still goes on, often for the seemingly best of reasons. Again, there’s some truth there. I think every parent should be paying close attention to what their child is reading – but I don’t think any parent should be making that decision for someone else’s child, or restricting the choices of an adult library reader by their actions.
I’d even like to say it’s because of the classics that so often get affected. This one, I have to admit, is only half true. Sure, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” has made the list. But so has the Captain Underpants series. Great fun, but hardly Hamlet.
No, I think what keeps drawing me back year after year is simply this. Banned book attempts are the most unintentionally funny mess since Ed Wood stopped making movies.
We could start with the folks who wanted to ban “To Kill A Mockingbird” for racism if you like.
Or maybe the sheer irony of challenging “Fahrenheit 451,” a book about the damaging effect of burning books.
Someone at some time nearly fainted over the talking animals in Charlotte’s Web. (“An insult to God,” the challenge said.) Or got heated up over how “The Giving Tree” and “The Lorax” would damage a child’s perception of the logging industry. Back in the 1950s, there was even a challenge to “The Rabbit’s Wedding,” about as innocuous a children’s book as you can get – because it had a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit.
Stephen Colbert can’t write stuff like this.
“A very famous writer once said ‘A book is like a mirror. If a fool looks in, you can’t expect a genius to look out ,” Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling noted. “People tend to find in books what they want to find.”
But of course, the funniest bit of all is how banning controversies so often backfire – a fact obvious to everyone but the would-be banners. What do people want? What they can’t have, of course.
“Apparently, the Concord Library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums,’” Mark Twain once wrote to his editor. “This will sell us another 25,000 copies for sure!”
So go ahead. Join the comedy. Grab yourself a book. Missy and I will be right there with you.
Let’s make sure readers have the last laugh.