Banned Aid


Anne Michael

Seasoned Lightly is on hiatus until after the first of the year when Anne Michael, who is taking a break, will return to BiblioBuffet. In the meantime, we invite you to revisit some of her early pieces.

A few weeks ago the editor of BiblioBuffet, Lauren Roberts, asked if any of us on staff had any interest in writing a column about the American Library Association’s Banned Book week, this year September 27 through October 4 [2008].  While I am not into arcane or frivolous celebrations like jelly donut week or people with center parts in their hair day, I did agree to take a stab at Banned Book Week. I must admit that I’d never heard of this particular week prior to Lauren’s suggestion. So I did some research.

The subject of banned books has fascinated and dismayed me even as far back as junior high. I was a volunteer librarian in the school library in those days. Back then, there was no such thing as Banned Book Week. This is a relatively new phenomenon commencing in 1982. Prior to that time the subject of banned books was discussed discreetly and generally not in front of the volunteers for fear of what might come back from parents. I was fortunate that such subjects were discussed in front of my curious ears because the librarians knew my parents would not have a problem with the subject as they were enthusiastic readers themselves. I was fortunate that my parents, no matter how much we disagreed on just about every other subject from hair, dating and makeup and their numerous, sometimes petty rules, always allowed me to read whatever I wanted, even if they were often uncomfortable with the questions some of my reading generated. Some of those questions left them reeling with either consternation or laughter. Still, they felt that if my nose was in a book, I was at least not getting into trouble or arguing with my siblings. After all, I was educating myself. And my parents were correct; I was my own best censor.

 By the time I got into high school, all the English and creative writing teachers openly discussed books that were banned such as Catcher in the Rye. It was required reading in the school I attended, even though the Board of Education disagreed with the teachers who were younger, liberal and wore clogs. The men wore beards and had long hair despite the fact that students had not yet been allowed to even wear jeans to school. I found Catcher in the Rye to be an excellent book! We students were not the least bit offended by its contents. In fact, we identified with Holden Caulfield, even if only in a small way. We felt his angst and his youth.

Contrast that with our feelings about the celebrated works of Shakespeare, whose sagas include murder, mayhem and sex by minors who kill themselves in the name of love. The kids I knew back then thought Romeo and Juliet were idiots and needed to get a life—or a backbone. Reading Romeo and Juliet didn’t make us want to have illicit love affairs or commit suicide any more than Catcher in the Rye did, but adults imagined young Holden’s plight would have us running wild in the street while at the same time imagining Shakespeare’s work would inspire.

It now astounds me that folks like Maya Angelou, Judy Blume, Stephen King, Piers Anthony, John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison have their work challenged on a regular basis, and some like Judy Blume and Toni Morrison have some of their works banned. This from an enlightened society? These are excellent writers, articulate, interesting crafters of the written word. These authors are not criminals; they are intelligent, insightful people with eloquent imaginations, yet their rights are trampled regularly. Lest you imagine that the banning of books is something done only in this country, do the research, it is a worldwide and ancient phenomenon.

This past Sunday, I read an article about a woman, Professor Elif Shafak, who is to go on trial, in Turkey, very soon on the charge of “insulting Turkishness” for her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul because the story is told through the eyes of an Armenian who ruminates on “one of the most disputed episodes of her country’s history—the massacres of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.” Her book is already banned. I am stunned. She could get three years in prison for this “crime” though similar trials of other Turkish writers have usually folded on technicalities and no one has gone to jail. [Editor’s note: She was acquitted.] It is sad that it can not even be said to be an isolated incident.

One of the most poignant tales on paper or on the silver screen that I know is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It is set in a world where books are banned and burned (the way the Nazis did) and critical thinking of any sort brings death. This just hits me in the gut—hard—each time I read it.  It is so appallingly wrong. This is America, the land of freedom and opportunity. Isn’t it? I have to wonder if the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week accomplishes anything more than providing validation for this utterly vile practice of banning books. The fact that this week is still so necessary after these many years is abysmal. Read what YOU want, always!

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” Contact Anne.



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