Banning Books and More
I sat with my 90-year-old mother in the surgical waiting area of Baystate Medical Center, awaiting the outcome of my sister’s cancer surgery. We were nervous, my mother and I. Unlike me, she is not adept at waiting. She’s not a reader, a knitter, or an aficionado of any portable hobby. Mostly, we watched the news together.
Early that afternoon, CNN began another vigil about another tragedy covering the latest school shooting that took four young lives, all fourteen and fifteen-year-olds, and left three others in critical or serious condition.
No matter my sister’s outcome that day, our family would fare better than any of those families.
Then again, we’ve already walked in those shoes. We lost a fourteen-year-old in our family more than twenty-five years ago to gun violence.
We waited most of the afternoon, my mother fidgeting and sighing through her worries, while I read sporadically. I happened upon an article about banned books, and in the juxtaposition of that day, it struck a chord.
Book banning in the United States is generally a local issue. School districts are allowed to determine what is acceptable literature for their children, and every year there are challenges. Here are a few of the books that were challenged for the school year 2013-2014:
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. In Adams County, Colorado the challenge alleged that this is a ‘bad book,’ containing an ‘underlying communist-socialist agenda.’ Ms. Morrison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Nobel laureate, raises the specter of racial inequality, identity, loss, and child abuse. How is an examination of any of this ‘bad’ for students?
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was challenged in Randolph County, North Carolina for the book’s strong language. Ellison won the National Book Award for fiction in 1953. Invisible Man has been ranked by Modern Library and Time Magazine as one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century. Provocative language can be heard near every locker in nearly every school in America. How about policing that!
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank was another challenged book; this time by the Northville School District in Michigan due to anatomical descriptions in the book. Again, this oft-challenged book is on several lists as one of the top books of the twentieth century. Really? Girls and boys going through so many bodily changes shouldn’t read about them?
The list goes on…
And yet, in 2014 legislatures passed various versions of laws in Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Idaho allowing guns in bars, restaurants, and campuses for persons who have conceal/carry permits. Teenagers and children, mostly of color, are being shot down in the streets, legally-backed by ‘Stand your Ground’ laws. Backlash laws continue to wind their way through various state law bodies with heavy backing from gun lobbies.
While kids keep dying in our schools and on our streets, people continue to challenge and ban books.
Can’t we put the guns away, lock them safely away, and use fingerprint locks for easy access? Can’t we just open the library doors, and not worry about becoming the ‘thought police,’ the ‘word squad?’ How is someone’s right to arms more important than another dead child? Why is prejudice more sanctioned than a child who might ask awkward questions about a book? Oh, I know this is too simplistic, but is it really?
I wonder if my book, Stony Kill will be challenged or banned when it comes out in the autumn of 2015? It’s a hard look at kids and guns…
A little after 4 p.m., my sister’s doc pulled my mother and I aside and gave us the happy, joyful news that my sister’s cancer had been contained and completely surgically removed.
We had a good day.