September 27 – October 4 is National Banned Book awareness week. The ALA (American Library Association) website has some interesting information on why books are challenged or banned (and the difference between the two terms). It was eye-opening to me to delve a bit more into what this term means.
Of all the books challenged by far the most cited reason is that they are “sexually explicit.” I have to say that I agree certainly that these books should not be assigned in class. A movie that has a steamy love scene will earn an R rating. Those sex scenes are nothing compared to sexually explicit writing in novels, even something as “mainstream” as Danielle Steele. A child who is under 17 is not allowed to buy a ticket to an R rated movie. That is because the movie contains material that should be filtered for a child. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for me to expect as a parent that a book containing a graphic sex scene or even explicit sex talk would not be expected reading for my child in high school, no matter the literary merits.
I’ve read some of these books. I read the Judy Blume books in high school, like Forever, which is still on the top 10 most-challenged list because of sexual content. I honestly wish now that I had somehow been protected from that exposure. But did I check out that book in the school or public library? Did I buy it in the Young Adult section in the local bookstore? No. It was passed around from friend to friend. Two years ago, I read The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger, because I’ve never read it, and it is still one of the most challenged books, and is considered by many to be a “classic.” I wanted to get my own take on it in the context of it being a banned book. You can read my review HERE.
As a mother, my initial thought is one of thanksgiving that certain books might not be made available to children, say in an elementary or even a junior high library, or certainly assigned as Junior High or High School reading for a class. There are books that I don’t want my daughter to read (at 8 years old and able to read at a higher level than that). There are books that I probably won’t want her to read in high school. There are books that I avoid reading myself for certain reasons. But honestly, I think that books are windows–sometimes to different codes of conduct, involving drug use or sexual promiscuity; sometimes to different times, when offensive racial slurs were used freely because of a different accepted standard of thought; sometimes to completely fictitious worlds that transport us to a make believe place and time with an entirely new code of conduct. I think that by supporting the banning of books, we are in some way trying to pass off our parental charge. It is my responsibility to know what my daughter is reading and know about the books that her friends read and talk about. It is not the duty of the library system or bookstores to prevent these books from being circulated at all.
It got me to thinking about what I read and why I read it. I do censor myself, and there are some times that I intentionally do not ban certain books from my reading pile. I do not always shy away from books that might present a different kind of lifestyle than the one I lead or endorse, because I think that reading about it is a way that helps me either understand it or develop compassion for people living it. As a Christian, I often find myself in a bubble. Reading books helps break into that bubble.
That said, I do try to avoid explicit sexual content. Bad language doesn’t bother me as much, but if it is entirely superfluous, I grow tired of it, so I set it aside as bad writing if nothing else. Does that mean that these books shouldn’t be published or shouldn’t be available to those who choose to read them? I don’t think so.
So, tell me — what do you avoid reading and why? Is there any area in which you intentionally try to stretch your borders? What about for your children?
Managing Editor Jennifer Donovan is a contributing editor at 5 Minutes for Mom. She has been blogging at Snapshot for over two years. You’ll almost always find her holding either a book, a fork, a child’s hand, her laptop, or some combination therein.