Friday, January 4, 2008

Banned Books

The Golden Compass has raised the ire of some people due to its alleged promotion of atheism. Now, I have not read the book, but my philosophy on reading has always been that people should be free to read whatever the want. Children are included in "people."

My parents never denied me a book and while once in awhile they cautioned me about the mature nature of the book (I read Brave New World in junior high and my father offered that it might cover some issues advanced for my age) but I was never told not to read a book. Once while I was walking to a babysitting job and was carrying Valley of the Dolls. A conservative neighbor man passed me and asked if my parents knew I was reading such a book. I was proud to announce that yes, they were aware of my reading selection. A more alarming issue was when, as a ninth grader, I went to the public library to check out In Cold Blood and was denied the book by the librarian due to the content of the book. A phone call to my parents assured the librarian that I was allowed to read the book.

When I became an English teacher I foolishly required my 7th graders to write book reports. I never limited the book selection unless it was ridiculously below the student's reading level. I may not have liked some selections (Flowers in the Attic was a popular series, and I would tell students how much I disliked those books) I never told them not to read it. I was happy they were reading.) What I have found over the years is that the quickest way to get a child to read a book is to tell them they can't. Forbidden fruit is always more appealing because people want to find out what they are missing.

While parents have a right to direct their own children's reading, I am amazed when people want a book removed from a school library! Just because people don't want their children to read a book does not mean they have a right to dictate to everyone else's children. What scares me about such people is their need to have others believe/think what they think/believe.

Of even greater interest to me are the people who don't want their children or themselves to read a book that doesn't agree with their religious beliefs. Are people so insecure that they can't be exposed to alternative ideas? Do they not want to question their beliefs as a healthy way to keep their beliefs viable? I was entranced by the people who found Harry Potter promoting the occult. I am equally enthralled by the hullabaloo over The Golden Compass. It isn't as though an evil creature is going to cast a magical spell over a child and brainwash them into becoming an atheist. Wouldn't it be a wonderful opportunity for a child to read the book and then ask questions of the parents thus possibly enhancing the family's religious beliefs?

This website is from the American Library Association On the list of 100 banned books 1990 - 2000 I have read 30 of the books. I was disappointed it was only thirty. In the "Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century" I have read only 28.

Adolf Hitler burned books that were determined to be in conflict with his regime. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell's 1984 tackle the issue. While asking to ban books is hardly book burning it is important to heed the past and read the warnings in both Bradbury's and Orwell's books. A society that is afraid of new ideas and a government that wants to limit citizen's access to written material are dangerous. A look at North Korea is enough to scare me to the core.
In the spirit of reading, keeping an open mind, and questioning, I am off to buy the Golden Compass series!

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