Okay, first off, let me start off by saying I don’t think that books should be banned—my opinion isn’t that unpopular, and I don’t want you to go into this post thinking I’m a crazy person advocating pulling books off the shelves of libraries or anything. I think that people should have the freedom to choose for themselves what books they want to read and that no one should dictate that choice for others.
Still, I noticed something just a teensy bit unsettling to me during Banned Books Week, and it’s an attitude I can’t quite get behind.
I feel like there’s almost an insistence that I should rush out and read certain books because someone somewhere has banned them. As if the very fact that they’ve been banned gives them more intrinsic value or literary merit somehow. I can’t tell you the number of posts and newsletters I ran across during Banned Books Week urging me to read a list of books because someone doesn’t like something about the content. And I found this… odd. And maybe a little irresponsible (especially when it comes to posts and newsletters aimed at the YA community).
I get it. I do. Nobody likes to be told what to do. And since the book blogging and YA publishing worlds are both relatively liberal, our instinct is to fight against what feels something like oppression. Only I feel like this might be one of those cases where we’re pushed to view the world in extremes—you’re either a book banner or you’re actively working to support any book that has been banned (preferably by reading it yourself and proclaiming your support of it to the world). I hate that this is yet another case where we’ve lost all sense of the middle ground. Why don’t we instead urge people to take objections into account and make an informed decision on the things we read rather than just assuming that a book that’s banned is automatically worth reading.
I guess this is where my “momness” starts to kick in. See, I get nervous when I see the message being sent out (especially to young people) that any book that has been banned somewhere is obviously a book they should read. That obviously someone is trying to hold them back or hold them down and keep them in the dark about something—something they’ll be missing out on if they don’t read that book!
Again, I’m not advocating banning—I think that people should be able to choose what they read. But I don’t think anyone should read a book out of a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that someone else doesn’t approve of the content. That seems like a juvenile reaction to me. If I see that a book is controversial, I very well might consider reading it, but I would try to make an informed choice and possibly even try to understand why someone might be opposed to it. I know that there are some books that get banned for seemingly ridiculous reasons. But might there not be circumstances where people have valid concerns? What if a book promotes racism? Or what if the book might actually be harmful to certain readers because of triggers?
13 Reasons Why comes to mind when I write this—it was listed on at least one (possibly two) of the lists of books I have to rush out and buy because they’ve been banned. Now, I will admit that I haven’t read the book, but I did watch the series and while I enjoyed aspects of it, it raised some pretty major issues for me. I feel like there’s a possibility that a teenager could watch it and come away with the idea that “revenge suicide” is somehow cool or impressive or even just a fabulously effective way to get revenge on people who’ve hurt you. I’ve read some opinions of professionals who believe that the central messages in the show (and book) could possibly do more harm than good.
Does that mean I think the book should be banned? No. (I’ve also read opinions that say that the book gets teens talking about the issue of suicide, which is a very good thing—I’m aware that it’s a complicated issue that might not have “right” or “wrong” answers.) Still, do I blame some schools for not necessarily wanting the book readily accessible on their shelves in light of the opinion of certain professionals that the book might be harmful? Honestly, not really. (But that’s a whole other unpopular opinion that I won’t get into right now.) And I don’t know that I’d include it in a newsletter aimed at YA readers as a book they should definitely buy because it’s been banned. I think it’s the type of book that needs more dialogue than that.
And I guess dialogue is what I would urge. Instead of banning books or running out and reading any book that someone suggests banning, it would be nice if we could find ways to urge people to make their own informed opinions and decide for themselves. But that’s just my unpopular opinion.
By the way, I actually wrote this post during Banned Books Week, but then second-guessed myself and didn’t post it. But then I changed my mind again. See, I’ve been doing this book blogging thing for almost five years and I still stress about these things.
What do you think? Did you feel more bombarded this year by the message that you need to buy banned books in order to stand up for what’s right? Do you agree with that message? I want to know!
(By the way, feel free to disagree with me on this topic in the comments, but try to do it respectfully please!)
This post has been linked up to the 2017 Book Blog Discussion Challenge!