No, seriously: If this post upsets, frightens, or offends you, have it banned from your schools. Have it blocked on the Internet at your public library. Because one person’s personal offense to a topic is sufficient cause to prevent any other human being from accessing that topic, right?
…As you may have noticed, I’m experiencing a serious lack of patience with the banning-books crowd today.
I got back to the banned-books topic this morning via this post by Diane Plumley at the Bookshop Blog, who is even more fed up with book-banning than I am. The latest book Ms. Plumley covers is Laurie Krasny Brown’s What’s the Big Secret?: Talking About Sex With Girls and Boys, which, like its predecessor pictured here, is a children’s book that discusses where babies come from. In other words, it talks about sex. (SEX!)
And, like all children’s books that talk about sex, at least one parent (this one in Oak Harbor, Washington) can’t deal with the idea that her kid might read about a natural biological function. Especially not at an age where said child is going to be more than curious about her own changing body – not to mention all that slang and snickering among her classmates.
(True Fact: I got my first copy of Peter Mayle’s Where Did I Come From? in KINDERGARTEN, which tells you exactly how little I was taught to be ashamed of Things Down There (down where…Perth?). Consequently, I have little patience for parents who freak out about genitalia-discussing books.)
My bias aside, however, I continue to be baffled by the concept of banning books from public libraries, including public school libraries. The parents in stories like the one above, or like the recent banning of Water for Elephants from a voluntary three-day high school reading course in New Hampshire, only confuse me. I cannot imagine believing that my personal misgivings about a book justify denying access to that book to everyone else in the community.
But then, to believe that, I suppose I would also have to believe that my personal misgivings are somehow more than personal; that what scares or upsets me is somehow fundamentally bad or scary in a way that automatically justifies its being denied to other people, regardless of whether or not other people are scared or upset by the material. And I don’t. I believe that neither my personal approval of, say, What’s the Big Secret? nor another parent’s personal disapproval carry any weight at all when it comes to answering the question, “Should this book be taken out of the school library so that no child or parent can read it?” The answer to that question can only be determined on the weight of supporting evidence each side presents – which itself weighs in favor of keeping the book on the shelves.
(Further True Fact: I was once an Ivy-League lawyer, which is relevant here only because I know, from direct and humiliating experience, that arguing about a text one hasn’t actually read is not only futile, but also a great way to make oneself look like a complete fool. An argument focusing on why a particular book should or should not be banned can only be made by people who have actually read the book.)
In the end, I suppose what baffles me the most about the “controversy” of book banning is that the two sides aren’t equal. The side against book-banning says “We just want as much information as possible to be available should any member of the community want to access it.” The side for it says “Because some or maybe even all of us are deeply uncomfortable with this information, nobody should have access to it at all.” I cannot but think that the second position is deeply self-centered – and dangerous.