Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Week: Don't be a Jerk

So, here we are at the end of Banned Books Week. It’s almost time to take down the Banned Books tree, put aside the Banned Book presents, and... I may be thinking of another holiday. 

At the start of Banned Books Week, the American Library Association usually has their list of activities and “what you can do” lists. I like to save mine for the end of the week. The week itself is about awareness, but banning books is a problem for 52 weeks out of the year, not just this one. People publish articles, blogs, whatever for this week reminding people about the problem of banned books. But it has to go deeper than that. So, what can YOU do about banned books?

-The obvious, of course, is not to ban books. Look, I throw this in here, and we all have a hearty laugh (ha!) at the idea that step one is not to ban any books. But that’s easier said than done, sometimes. If something offends you, discuss it. If you don’t like something, talk about it. And if you really, really, hate something don’t ruin it for everyone. We’re all different. Some people like Star Trek: The Next Generation, others like Deep Space Nine. Same with books and values. 

I’ll give you an example: if I were to ban any book today, it’d be Twilight. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s poorly written. I personally think it’s a dangerous book for young girls to read. The protagonist is a girl who’s special, “just ‘cause” and then proceeds to define herself by her boyfriend, at one point almost killing herself to see images of him after he leaves her. Don’t get me started on the power imbalance between the two. Despite the fact that he’s an immortal, chaste vampire (creepy that a 146 year old man loves a 17 year old girl... I digress) and she’s a normal girl and they get engaged, he won’t turn her into his equal. It’s not until the last minute (after the first time they have sex... after they’re married and even then there are issues) that he finally turns her into his equal. It’s a classic story of an abusive relationship, but extremely romanticized. I just don’t like it. Should it be banned? Nope. I’d hope that anyone in my family that read it would have the values I instill in them to recognize that it’s fiction, that there are issues with it, and if they meet an 146 year old man that finds them cute they’d come talk to me first. But because I didn’t like it, and I have these problems with it doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t read it.

-Read. Read. Read. Read. Read any book you can get your hands on, especially the banned ones. These are the ones that need the most love. Also, reading is fun, as you get to create new worlds in your head. Sure, watching Game of Thrones is fun. But wasn’t it MORE fun when you got to imagine what the Throne looked like in your head? 

Hey, did you notice that I was able to go into detail as to why I didn’t enjoy Twilight? Could it be because I READ THE BOOK? I just didn’t enjoy it. But I read enough of it to be properly informed, and not just throw out vaguries like “unsuited for age group” or “this book is pornography.” I didn’t like the book and was able to make a coherent argument why. Disagree with me. Love me. It doesn’t really matter.

-Encourage others to read. This was actually a good year for me in sharing books. I got someone on the Matched Series, they got me on Mortal Instruments. I got someone else to read The Fault in Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why. I was able to burn through about 30 books so far this year. (I don’t always talk about it. Sometimes I have nothing to say. Sometimes I end up with The Twelve, which essentially renders the  last book in the series moot, and actually has a whole section where you learn about the two ancestors of a character that are unrelated to a plot and... it was just... it was just so horrible. Don’t make me relive it, people.) 

But encouraging others to read is important, especially in this day and age. It’s never been easier to get a book. Literally. I’m willing to bet that you’re either reading this on a device that can download a book in seconds, or there’s some device in arms reach that will allow you to do it. So read a book. Look for suggestions. Read anything you want. Don’t be tied down to labels. 

-Lastly, don’t be a jerk. This sort of ties into the whole “don’t ban a book” I mentioned up top, but seriously, calm down. Understand that we live in a country that’s designed to protect everyone’s rights to read, enjoy, worship the way they want, so long as they don’t physically hurt anyone. That means that not everyone is going to share your values. Not everyone will think they way that you do. If they did, it might get old, fast. You need to calm down, understand that it’s a big bright beautiful world, and we’re all going to be different. 

Rather than trouncing quickly on someone else’s point of view, ideas, or way of life, read. Learn. You don’t have to like it, but at least you can talk about it intelligently. At least you can discuss it in a way that doesn’t make you look like a raving lunatic. Also, it opens the doors of discussion, and lets people know that you’re someone you can talk to. It’s just that simple.

We’ll still talk about banned books, mostly as the situations arise. Toni Morrison is under attack by a lot of “concerned parents” lately, almost as if the effort was coordinated somehow. (I’m not often prone to conspiracy theories. I just calls’em like I sees’em.) But I certainly hope you enjoyed this week with me as I discussed a topic that I think is too important.

It’s 2013. The words “Banned Books” shouldn’t exist in America. Let’s work on that.

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