This weekend Twitter was buzzing with an incredible amount of passionate discussion about book banning and specifically about three particular books that have recently been challenged in a Missouri school district, Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer. One very disturbing aspect of this particular case is that the person behind this challenge composed an opinion piece for Springfield, Missouri's News-Leader in which he referred to Speak (which is a young adult book about a victim of rape) as a book that should be classified as 'pornography'. In reality, rape is an act of violence, and the rape in Speak is not presented as erotic or titillating. It is described as a horrible, debilitating act of violence. It is presented as a violation and a crime.
To refer to such a book as pornography and to call for it to be banned, not only demonstrates ignorance, but also promotes a culture of shame and silence which already plagues victims of sexual assault far too often. In my opinion, that is reprehensible, and I have been so impressed by the outpouring of bloggers and authors speaking up and discussing their own personal experiences with rape and other types of abuse. I've also been impressed by the supportive nature of this community, and I have been moved to tears several times in the past 24 hours. I want to applaud everyone who has chosen to SPEAK. Thank you! So many incredible people have addressed this issue on their blogs (including Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeaniene Frost, Saundra Mitchell, C.J. Redwine, Myra McEntire, and at least three of my dear friends - Laurie London, Jenni Elyse, and Variety), and I have very little to add regarding the current issue in Missouri that hasn't already been said more eloquently than I could ever say it. But I would like to share a few reasons I believe book banning is NEVER okay.
Ignorance is NOT bliss. Ignorance won't save lives. It won't prevent rape. It won't prevent suicide. It won't prevent teen pregnancies. It won't prevent drunk driving. It won't prevent drug abuse. It won't prevent cutting. It won't prevent eating disorders. It won't help anyone heal from past traumas. It won't prepare anyone to deal with future pressures. It won't help anyone find the courage they need to stand up for themselves. It won't help anyone face tests of character with bravery and confidence. Ignorance won't make a person a more compassionate listener or help them empathize with a friend who is suffering. Pretending there is no violence or cruelty in the world won't make it so. Refusing to acknowledge something won't make it go away. Banning books that tackle difficult and controversial subjects won't make those issues any less a part of the world in which we live. Instead, when a we allow a book to be banned, we are restricting access to a valuable resource that could potentially help someone cope with a difficult situation. To my mind, that is socially irresponsible and it has potential to make the world a more painful and less sympathetic place.
Books that address difficult and controversial topics are vital. They can save lives, provide support to people who are struggling, and provide comfort to people who believe that they are all alone. Books can help us understand our own histories, help us put words to our own experiences, and they can help us make well-informed decisions about our futures. Of course, it is up to you to decide which books you personally want to purchase or check out from the library, and it is also up to you to decide which books you will allow and encourage your own children to read. But it is NOT up to you to decide which books I am permitted to read, and it is NOT up to you to decide which books my children are permitted to read.
Some stories may challenge our values and some stories might make us angry or fearful, but that doesn't make them any less worthy of being told and that doesn't make them less deserving of space on our library's shelves. Who are we to decide what will be of value to someone else? We haven't walked in their shoes and felt their sorrows. Who are we to silence other people's voices or to tell them that their stories aren't worthy of being shared? Our world isn't without cruelty, violence, and pain, but we do have the ability to try to make the world a better place with each passing day. We have more opportunities than ever before to seek out knowledge, to make thoughtful and compassionate choices, and to have our voices heard. Those freedoms are absolutely priceless, and we should be vigilant about seeing them upheld because all of our children deserve to feel free to share their stories and to make their ideas and words accessible to others. I want the right to chose which books, songs, plays, movies, articles, blogs, paintings, and poems speak to me, and I won't sit quietly by and watch those freedoms taken from me or taken from my children. I will SPEAK LOUDLY, and I hope that you will to.
If you would like to read more about the current book challenge in Missouri, please check out the #speakloudly TwitterFeed, visit Laurie Halse Anderson's blog (where you can find links to write to the school district administrators evaluating that challenge), and check out Bookalicio.us's list of links to other book blogger's & author's posts about this topic (there are over 80 links so far!).
If you would like to learn more about Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 2), please visit the American Library Association's website. To read more about some of the books that have been banned or challenged this year, click here. You might be surprised by some of the books on that list. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, P.C. & Kirsten Cast's House of Night series, Neal Schusterman's Unwind, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl all made the list. I will be posting more about Banned Books Week as September 25th approaches.
Finally, I would like to share this video of Laurie Halse Anderson reading a poem that was inspired by letters she has received regarding Speak over the past ten years. It is just one small but poignant example of the way a single book has the potential to help people find comfort, begin healing, and speak out.