Banned Books Week: Who Decides What You Read?

993036_642798835752174_747131343_nYou all are saying some really interesting and pertinent things on my previous posts. They highlight how tangled the issue of censorship is. On the one hand, we need to be discerning readers. We need to have standards, whether of quality or morality or age-appropriateness or whatever. On the other hand, who should decide what those standards are? Just before the Bishop of my ward (read: the leader of our congregation) left for deployment in Afghanistan, he spoke about being careful about our media choices. His counsel was that we be careful to read things that will always allow us to feel the Spirit, and not to make excuses for things that degrade our souls. But he didn’t give specifics about what is good and what is not. I think this was wise of him, since individuals respond to different works in different ways. We all have different “flash points,” different things that are going to stick with us, different temptations and personalities, so the best person to determine whether or not any given work is beneficial to our soul is ourselves.

Here’s what you’ve had to say on the matter:

Becky says:

My gut reaction to banned books is to avoid them because obviously they’re being banned for a reason, but I think I will try to overcome my aversion in honor of banned book week and try something new.

Shanna, a graduate student at Emory, says:

I have a class coming in to the library in a few weeks to look at our Salman Rushdie materials because the class is studying banned books and they’re reading The Satanic Verses (which I haven’t read). So I dug into the Rushdie papers to find what might be interesting to these students and as I learned about the conflict surrounding that text, I noticed that the primary reason people wanted to ban that book (and kill Rushdie) was due to a misreading of the text. Rushdie was shocked that people were so offended.I think the same thing is true of Harry Potter–there’s really no occultism or Satinism in the books, and in fact they are full to the brim of Christian themes. For other books, like Beloved, well, some things should be offensive. We should be offended by stories about slavery. We should be horrified. We should want to throw the book across the room for making us live intellectually in those conditions. I don’t want a clean and easy version of slavery or its aftermath. I should be shocked by it because it’s good for me to occupy the space of the Other. Books let us be bigger than ourselves and see more than our own, limited perceptions allow. I just read a pedagogy article the other day explaining how cognitive dissonance helps to create new neuropathways in the brain so that new learning can happen, and I think that one of the things that “offensive” books do for us (or the good ones anyway) is to create some cognitive dissonance that allows us to think in new ways.

Kim says:

I agree with you wholeheartedly that I don’t want people telling me what to read/think… but on the other hand, I think a lot of the challenges to these books were done by schools and why should we subject our kids to some of these things, if they aren’t ready. I’ll get on my soapbox about parenting now: parents should be award of and involved in what their children are reading. If a child has an assigned book to read in school the parents should have a say in whether their child has to read it. Of course, once a child is able to make informed decisions on their own, I think they should also have a choice. (stepping off the soapbox now) You know me, I’m very sensitive (some might say I’m a prude :) ) and I think there are things that I won’t read because of offensive (to me) content. BUT, I recognize the value of being able to make that decision for myself. Banning books is kind of like prohibition, and even a bit like Satan’s plan, if you think about it… we have to make choices and deal with the consequences. As I said, there are books I just won’t read because I feel the consequences will be more detrimental (leaving me void of the spirit) than helpful (building new neuropathways?). But again, the choice should always be my own.

Whitney says:

I do see why some people would want to choose not to read many of these books because a lot of them are uncomfortable, or maybe they glorify a way of life that doesn’t agree with the way they are choosing to live their own lives – but none of them should be banned. I’m not a great thinker or philosopher, but I do think that the same freedoms that protect these books are the ones that are allowing the “banners” to live their lives the way they want to. And if they don’t want to? Fine. They are allowed to do that too.

With every freedom comes a responsibility. We need to be responsible, ethical readers. Banned Books Week is about celebrating the freedom we have to make our own choices about what we read. I agree that offensive subjects (like slavery, rape, or child prostitution) should shock us, and I think that’s important that we allow these subjects to have a voice. But that doesn’t mean we force our six year olds, for example, to be aware of them. And I think that if an individual reader just cannot handle reading The Kite Runner or Beloved, then they probably shouldn’t. There’s no need to run faster than you have strength, or to expose your heart to more than it can hold. I’m not going to insist anyone read any particular book (though obviously I advocate for the ones I love, hence this blog). Just as I refrain from judging others based on their reading choices (a challenge for me, I’ll admit), I expect that same respect. Banned Books Weeks highlights the responsibility and joy we have in setting our own standards.


PS Don’t forget to leave a comment for a contest entry!


2 thoughts on “Banned Books Week: Who Decides What You Read?

  1. “With every freedom comes a responsibility. We need to be responsible, ethical readers. Banned Books Week is about celebrating the freedom we have to make our own choices about what we read.”

    You hit the nail on the head. Thanks.

  2. My kid’s school sent home a form, telling parents Catcher in the Rye was coming up. If you did not want your child to read it, you just had to let them know and they’d assign another book. Nice and logical. No reason to get school board involved so they ban it for every student.

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