Monday, October 10, 2011

Do NOT Read This Post

Doesn't that title make you want to read whatever I'm going to say just a little bit more? I thought so. This is one of the things that's always puzzled me about censorship; despite all the various forms it takes (some more insidious than others), in the process of trying to stop people from seeing or reading something, you often end up calling more attention to it and inspiring interest from people who might not have even noticed it otherwise.

This topic is on my mind because authors and book lovers around the country recently celebrated Banned Books Week, which is our way of honoring artists who speak truth and whose words contain a particular kind of power that has the potential to frighten small-minded people, those who want the whole world to agree with them on every imaginable perspective. As someone who's spent a great deal of my life dealing with diversity--embracing, encouraging and embodying it--I can't stand the thought of opinions being suppressed, and people's minds and hearts being suppressed along with them.

It's something of a badge of pride among published authors (especially young adult authors, I'd say) if your work has been challenged by a school board, a PTA, or a conclave of concerned citizens. We're proud of the impact our books can have, and we understand it very well, because lots of other people's books have had an impact on us--as young people, as writers, as humans. Books can touch readers in ways that no other media can. As authors, we know we have the power to reach people--maybe not to change their minds, but to make them think. And why is that so scary?

During Banned Books Week, I kept thinking about my own writing. I don't know if my books have been challenged...yet...but I know they will be in the future, because I write about things that make some people uncomfortable. Racism, classism, death, sex, violence, power. I write about genuine fears and deep loves, the way we hurt one another and the way we're affected by tragedies. And, particularly, how it all starts when we're young.

In 1992, Stephen King wrote an op-ed after some of his books were removed from school libraries, saying: "When a book is banned, a whole set of thoughts is locked behind the assertion that there is only one valid set of values, one valid set of beliefs, one valid perception of the world. It's a scary idea, especially in a society which has been built on the ideas of free choice and free thought. ....As a nation, we've been through too many fights to preserve our rights of free thought to let them go just because some prude with a highlighter doesn't approve of them."

Not much has changed in twenty years. Hopefully, twenty years from now it'll all be better. In the meantime, I'll settle for being amused by the attention that people draw to the books they challenge, and I will continue supporting other writers in the effort to keep our books on shelves in even the most tightly-closed corners of the country. I'll study all the handy, lengthy lists of "banned" or challenged books, and see what piques my interest.

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