My good friend over at pastelninja asked me to write about Banned Books this week. Pastelninja and I became good friends talking about books. We have similarly over-sized libraries. We are passionate about the stories we love. And we have been known to talk an ear bloody trying to convince said random individual to read the books we recommend. (Harry Potter, Flavia de Luce, Maggie Stiefvater, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, etc, etc) We’re also both young writers–young in experience of writing. I am not, alas, a spring chicken.
It is my philosophy that if you aren’t a reader, you just haven’t found the right book. When you sink into an imagination that aligns with your own, there is a kind of refreshing, awe inspiring, mind changing glory that comes with reading that book.
That being said… I do think that it is the job of parents to monitor the books that their children read. (I just so rarely agree with their choices.) And I’ll tell you why:
Example One: No one knows their kid better than that parent. My sister-in-law once asked me for book recommendations for my nephew Nathan when he was a tot because he loved to read, but he had some things that she knew would be concerning to him. He wasn’t going to want to read any story that got too intense. Not at that point in his life. She was his mom and she knew him well enough to recognize it. Seeing his needs and helping to guide his reading was being a good parent.
Example Two: When I was a tot, I was a rabid reader. (I still would be except I have tots and they suck my time.) I was the kind of reader that book lovers dream of coming across when they’re young and can direct them to the best of books. Except—I didn’t have a book mentor. And I read a lot of stuff that I regret now. It wasn’t right for the child I was then. And oh how I wish I’d found Roald Dahl when I was little. The BFG blew my mind as an adult. It would have rocked my world if I’d read it at the right age.
As a writer, I write for my childhood self. For that sweet, lonely girl whose salvation was books. I needed them during much of my adolescence. And I had such a hard time finding them. I read far and wide trying to find the books that spoke to my soul. And because I read far and wide, I read things that were totally inappropriate for children. Before I had sex education (I’m old–they did it in middle school then), I read a pretty darn graphic Harlequin Romance Novel. My mom tried to re-direct me, but I wouldn’t let her. I wish I had. Because, that book, was inappropriate for me and should have been banned from me. I am one hundred, one thousand, one million percent for parents guiding the reading of their children.
I am not, however, for institutions banning books. Guiding the reading of children and ourselves is the job of our parents or, when we’re old enough, ourselves. I choose to not read some things. Because once you sink into a story, that’s inside your head forever, and even now, I’d prefer for some things not to be in my head. I didn’t read the rape scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I chose, as an adult, to not carry on with the story. I didn’t want it in my head. (I’m not judging you here. That book presses triggers in me that it might not in another. Banning that book from my life was the right choice. You make your own.)
That being said, WTF with Harry Potter dudes?!?
I’ll tell you what Harry Potter is–it’s a magical adventure of a boy who gives up everything for the people he loves. It’s the story of friendship and love and kindness and just being good. It’s being willing to love and protect. Every single page of Harry Potter is infused with love. The love of friends. First love. The love of adults towards the children in their lives. The love of families that we create from among our friends. It’s infused with a Mother’s love. I expect my next reading will have a different flavor since I’ll be reading it as a mother.
It makes me sad that some people won’t give it a chance. It makes me sad that somewhere out there it has been judged for including magic without ever realizing that Harry Potter is as much of an allegory as the Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and the other tales of Narnia. (Which have one of the most beautiful explanations of the atonement I have ever read.) It also makes me bitterly jealous of every single child who picked up Harry Potter during this Renaissance of YA literature and got to read these books when they were children. I am jealous of every single person who gets to read them for the first time. I CAN NOT WAIT to read them aloud to my children. I would give a lot to be able to go back and read them again for the first time. And in celebration of Banned Books Week, I will venture into the series again. JK Rowling is a master of the craft and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is my favorite book of ALL TIME. To give you a bit of perspective, I’ve literally read thousands of books including many of the great classics.
JK Rowling dethroned Jane Austen for me. It still shocks me. I put myself to sleep imagining packing my trunk for Hogwarts. Oh, oh, oh, how I wish I could go to Hogwarts.
Speaking of things that are shocking to me, I have been told, to my face, that my book was pretty good except for the witchcraft in it. I have no doubt that my book, had it the popularity of Harry Potter, would be banned for the dark magic. Except, I was writing about sisterhood and loneliness and for the childhood self who couldn’t find enough books that spoke to her soul.
Every image in this blog post is a book that has been banned. A book that has been banned and a book that I LOVED. Every single one of these books is a book I’d give 5 stars to. These books left a flavor of their own in my mind. They’re books that spoke to my soul, blew my mind, made me think in a new way, and changed me forever. Thank Goodness for the writers who write despite the judgements of others. Thank goodness that people like Marjane and Anne wrote their stories so we can understand that not everyone is blessed with an American Entitled Middle Class Life. That some people have and deal with the most horrific of wickednesses.
Thank goodness for writers who need to write. To tell the stories that blossom in their minds and hearts. Thank goodness for writers like C.S. Lewis who didn’t just tell a wonderful story–he taught principles that can be difficult to understand. Thank goodness for JK Rowling who showed that even Dudley can recognize that his parents were unkind to Harry and finally learn to stand on his own. (Among a multitude of other beautiful things.) For J.R.R. Tolkein who wrote about Boromir and the path of repentance. For Victor Hugo who did the same with Jean Valjean. Thank goodness for writers who tell the stories of those who rise above their circumstances. For those who try to make the world a better place. For those who show the way so that their readers can imagine and perhaps enact similar changes in their own lives.
Thank goodness, just thank goodness, for writers.
Thank goodness for all the good they do. Books and writing and the art of storytelling is, in my firm opinion, one of the many gifts of God. In fact, excuse me for being super-Mormon here, but:
“Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
We can and do learn by both fiction and non-fiction. We can and are blessed by the best books. Don’t let anyone tell you what to read. Don’t let anyone choose your box. Choose a box. There is only so much time to read–read the best books.
And for goodness sake, read Harry Potter.