Sunday, September 21, 2014

Confessions: On Banning Books

Confessions of an Insomniac Book Devourer #10

I have a bit of a personal bone to pick with parents who choose to moderate (and/or stymie) their young adult's reading habits- mostly because I had a male parent (referred to forthwith as the Banner) who was also big on banning books.

When I look back at the books the Banner disapproved of and approved of, it gets confusing. My favorite genre of Fantasy was a regular topic of banning, but so were any books that had made national headlines.

Here are some of Banner-approved books:
The Bible
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Chronicles of Narnia

Here are the books the Banner disapproved of:
*Greek Mythology
The Harry Potter series
Anything with witchcraft/magic/non-Christian deities (godless worlds were much preferred)

You'll notice there are some discrepancies- both Narnia and Middle Earth had elements of magic. If you're not a believer in miracles, a lot of the Bible ends up sounding like magic too. This banning never made sense to me, so I never felt bad about reading banned books, and as long as I wasn't caught, it didn't matter to me. *When I was told I had to read Greek Mythology for school, my mother made sure I hid the book and any projects relating to it- the Banner didn't care that his rules interfered with my education, and would've probably pitched a fit (and/or pulled me out of private Catholic school) had he seen me reading it.

That said, I understand some reasons people feel they must ban books: it's difficult to tell which age group should read which book, but often my rule of thumb is the reader should be within two years of the protagonist's age (Ender's Game and adult books N/A). It's also hard for religious parents to find acceptable non-religious reads for their kids and teens in a world where sex sells. Many very innocent-looking YA books I read as a teen ended up having sex in them (without any warnings as to the content). Which is why I always chose fantasy- it was relatively clean of that, if not a tad bit gorey.

But to those parents who ban with very little reason (too violent, too much magic, too real of content, too much fun), I urge you to look at the world we live in. The writers of these banned books are often making a statement about the modern world through a YA book- The Hunger Games details our obsession with reality tv and war, Harry Potter is about perseverance despite people being against us (bullying, teachers being mean), and Speak addresses the statistic that one in six American women have been victims of a rape or attempted rape. It may not be easy to accept that young teens will be adults in the eyes of the law within five years, but they will, and by reading books with difficult subjects at an appropriate age, their transition might be easier.

And also- there's no reason to ban adult books, as long as they're read by adults. I mean really... I'm trying to think of a reason, but I'm not computing. If we as adults are able to vote, shouldn't we be smart enough to choose our own books? **We have freedom of speech- freedom to read should be claused in there somewhere.

**Note: Legalese is not my strong point.

Some of the banned books *gasp* I've read and reviewed on this blog:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (MG-YA)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (Adult)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Adult-ish)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Adult)

Also, an interesting study on diversity in banned books- I actually didn't know how many diverse books were a target of banning, brought to my attention by the lovely people of Book Riot:

Have you read any banned books? Do you have a favorite banned book? Are there books you think have crossed the line in terms of content?


  1. Yay! You said it! I think banning books is really rather ridiculous. I know parents want to protect their children, but half the time I think they ban books from kids out of ignorance. :( I was never allowed to read Harry Potter as a kid...but I was allowed to read Narnia. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. They're both about magic, right?! My parents are a lot more relaxed and understanding now, which is awesome, and I'm glad we've moved on. I do hope maybe your Banner thinks about it more in the future. Book banning makes me sad.
    Thanks for stopping by @ Notebook Sisters!

    1. Banning books also made me sad- I went to school with a bunch of people who didn't have to hide under the covers to read HP, and some of them were more religious than my family was. (Poor you- you couldn't even read it as a kid!) If anything, I think the first few books of the Narnia series are more bloody than the first three of the HP series, in addition to having about the same amount of magic.
      Thanks for commenting!
      ~Litha Nelle

  2. Banning books is just so stupid. I can't even.
    As John Milton says, "a man who kills a book kills reason itself..."

    Great post! I really, really enjoyed reading this!

    1. Yes- I'm flabberghasted at some of the books I've read that have, and haven't been banned. For example, Harry Potter vs. say... A Game of Thrones- which I can't even find mentioned on the ALA website. I mean, in terms of objectionable content, shouldn't GRRM take the cake? It makes no sense... especially since people don't ban tv shows (anymore).
      I'm glad you liked the post- thanks for commenting!
      ~Litha Nelle

  3. It is my personal feeling that people who ban books do so out of fear. It's just a coward's way out. Fear their teen will realize sex exists, fear that they might learn the Bible or the Torah are not the only spiritual guides in the world, the fear of what they do not understand (homosexuality, rape, witchcraft, etc.), the fear of reality (war, violence, rape.) There are plenty of children and teens across the world who experience these things first-hand, so it is my feeling that reading about them creates empathy, it makes you question (which, granted, is also another of the book banner's fears- questioning) and life is richer because of these books. I'm going to make sure my niece reads ALL the banned books.

    1. I agree, there's definitely a lot of fear attached to banning books, and reading banned books expands on acceptance and empathy. I also think parents feel like they might be a bad parent if they don't bend to popular opinion in terms of books- The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are examples of books that drew much criticism, even in the mainstream media.
      Your niece may be reading banned books for quite some time- I think so far I've only read a little less than 20, and as far as I can tell, there are hundreds of banned books (and that's just America's list of banned books).
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation!
      ~Litha Nelle

  4. I confess that i didn't want my son to read The Hunger Games when it first came out. He insisted and I let him. I tried reading 20 pages and was terrified and frankly, appalled, that a game about killing kids was made into a book. I returned it to the library unfinished to which my wise sontold me "mom, why did you give up? You always tell me to try something twice before we say we don't like it." Dang, he's right. So I read it and finished it and ended up loving the series.
    I can't possibly prescan and analyze every book he reads. He reads too fast. I try to protect him but know I can't. I feel like his childhood innocence is taken away much sooner these days. I haven't let him watch the Hunger Games movies yet, they were so gory. I figure hopefully his imagination of reading those scenes can't be as bad as the movies. He'll be a teen soon, he will have plenty of time for gory movies.

    1. The Hunger Games was one book that, based on media portrayals of it (i.e. on the evening news they dedicated an entire segment to moms against it) I thought "No, I probably wouldn't let my child (if I ever had one) read it." Then I read it (after one too many people raved about it), and was shocked to find Katniss Everdeen wasn't some psycho serial murderer- she didn't want to play in the Hunger Games, and could've killed many more people in the Games without mercy, but chose not to. I was far more unnerved by the popular "Ender's Game" because Ender gave me the creeps, but other people love that series.
      The movie was a bit more graphic, but mostly because when you read something it's a lot different from seeing it. Given my parents let us play bloody video games, go deer/prairie dog hunting with them, and that we watched James Bond films growing up, I doubt they'd have any objections to the film, but they had no qualms with violence- it was that darn magic that got the Banner up in arms.
      If there was anything that detracted from my childhood, it wasn't the books so much as the national news (i.e. a soldier was killed today fighting in Iraq; a student firing a gun at his classmates). Books, for me, were a way of escaping the world, and I can't remember any YA titles that truly unnerved me.
      I'm glad your son talked you into giving the Hunger Games another chance- if I hadn't read it entirely, I would've been put-off by it as well.
      Thanks for stopping by and weighing in- it's nice to hear a parent's opinion.
      ~Litha Nelle

  5. While I don't agree with the Banner at all, I think I know his reasoning behind a couple of his choices. Yes, Middle Earth and Narnia have magic in them, but they were also written by very Christian writers. Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien incorporated Christian values and themes into their books, especially C.S. Lewis, and there are a ton of books out there that discuss that. There's even a book called The Hobbit Devotional that I stumbled across when looking for Hobbit related books. So, perhaps the Banner thought that, despite the magic, they were suitable for you since they wouldn't have anything in them that might portray anything "bad" or "evil" as "good". It still sucks, of course, and I'm glad that my parents never banned or censored me from any book.

    1. Yeah, I know his rather twisted reasoning, but to most people, banning any other books that portray magic (that you haven't even read yourself) just because is overkill. More than that, I read so many books with questionable content that he wouldn't have even known to ban that banning books in the first place was a crappy decision.
      Then also, neither of my brothers were banned from reading things, playing ultra-violent video games, or games with magic in them. He had a total sexist double standard because "witches"- females are more prone to magic.
      Anyways, my point was banning books is pretty pointless- most kids (like me) will find a way to read whatever they want despite parental interference. The best thing is to have an honest discussion about books you're concerned about, not to ban them.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Rachelle!
      ~Litha Nelle


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