“Without Banned Books, I Wouldn’t Be Me”

Banned Books Week comes along and we realize: maybe we haven’t made that much progress, after all.

My mom and I are fans of historical drama series—the more ornate the costumes, the better. Sharing a bottle of wine, we watch shows like Downton Abbey or Mad Men, and at moments of intense racism or sexism turn to each other and shake our heads.

“Thank goodness things aren’t still like that!” we murmur, half self-congratulatory, half drunk.

Then Banned Books Week comes along and we realize: maybe we haven’t made that much progress, after all.

Without banned books, I wouldn’t be me.

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The novels that have most inspired my own writing and self-reflection wear that particular badge of honor. To Kill A Mockingbird has been under attack since it first published in 1960. And the 1951 classic The Catcher in the Rye was also born into fire, with teachers being fired for even daring to teach it.

“So what?” you may shrug. “That was fifty years ago, books aren’t banned today.”

If only.

Though the Harry Potter series is so popular, it’s made author J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the world, even that beloved series has been banned. In 2001, Maine parents staged a good ol’ fashion book burning in protest of Harry Potter. Various fundamentalist groups throughout the U.S. labeled the books as “promoting witchcraft,” and symbolic book burnings followed Harry Potter every year throughout its publication.

A similar—if not as intense—outcry followed the publication of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Featuring a modern-day Holden Caulfield in the character of loner Charlie, the teen experiences drinking, drugs, suicide and heartbreak. I frequently hear this book quoted by teens who found Charlie’s story comforting during their own awkward days. Too bad students at many schools throughout the Midwest were banned from reading it.

Recently, NPR covered the sad tale of Rainbow Rowell’s beautiful and raw novel Eleanor and Park, perhaps one of the most accurate—and therefore toughest—portrayals of high school culture today. Deemed inappropriate by a school-board in Minnesota, Ms. Rowell’s visit to discuss the novel was rescinded and the book banned. I believe this book could provide great comfort to kids enduring bullying and alienation. But its honesty scared parents—and now an entire school—away.

Perhaps one day in the far future Mom and I will discover a period drama about librarians. We’ll watch as the sad tale of The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Eleanor and Park unfolds. And then there will be a happy ending—times have changed! Children are allowed to read books that might actually touch and inspire them. We’ll toast one another, and our modern-day open-mindedness.

One day. Until then, that’s as fictional as the very books being banned.

[Photo Credit: igor.stevanovic / Shutterstock.com]

We’re celebrating our freedom to read during Banned Books Week. READ MORE!
Does a Lot of It Come Down to Sex?
Banned Books:Artifacts from the Past or Reliable Indicators of True Greatness?

What banned books have you read about in the news? Share in the comments!

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.