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Monday, September 28, 2015

Banned Books Week 2015

I hate that we have a need for Banned Books Week. The idea that anyone thinks they have a right to tell others what they should read is horrific.

Now, I know that at my house we are the family that is a bit on the fringe when it comes to free speech.  For example, we have ALWAYS let our kids (now 10 and 13), listen to the uncensored versions of songs, while explaining to them that those artists are expressing themselves through their art and you (meaning the kids) do not get to repeat those words just for fun.  This led to this summer’s fun of coming up with creative ways to still sing along to Maroon 5’s This Summer’s Gonna Hurt.... among opening up many larger conversations about the importance of free speech over the years.

However, I would never play these unedited songs for other people’s children. These are choices we have made for our family.  We have chosen to be extremely pro-free speech. I make sure that my children understand that we are not only for free speech when the person speaking agrees with us, but also (and probably more importantly) when the person speaking is in opposition to our beliefs.

Free speech works best when you get personally affronted by something someone else says or writes and you do nothing but use your free speech to express an alternate opinion back.

Free speech FAILS when you are offended by something and then seek to ban it from everyone else.

This is why I get so angry about Banned Books Week.  Most of the attempts to ban books in America come from parents to school districts.  I have no problem with a parent making a choice for their child not read something. I don’t agree with doing this, but I respect their right to decide what is best for their child.  What I do disagree with is this parent then telling an entire school district what every kid can and cannot read.

What is most troubling here is that by executing their rights to decide what their child can read, these parents decide that their free speech trumps everyone else. ARRRGGGHHH!

This is the main reason I am get angry that we need to celebrate this week. But that anger will not stop me from participating.

I have read and reviewed many banned books in my time, but two recent attempts to ban books have made me very upset. Today I will be providing links to the circumstances surrounding those challenges, my opinion about why these situations are particularly troubling, and finally linking to my reviews of those books.

First up, from my own back yard-- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Click here for the case study on this title’s removal from classrooms.

This one is just crazy.  Persepolis is one of the best graphic novels ever written.  It has won numerous awards, so I am not alone in this opinion.  I have written about this book at length here on the blog and on NoveList having written the Author Read-Alike article on Satrapi.

Next up is a book I actually didn’t even enjoy myself-- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. [Click the title above for the details in my review.]

If you looked at my review, you know that this books is about how the cancerous cervical cells collected from a poor black woman, without her consent, have been used by doctors for decades to, among other things, create lucrative cancer drugs which have helped millions of people, but never Lacks’ descendants.  They have received no monetary compensation for their contribution to a multi-million dollar industry. And, their family's DNA has been floating all around the world without their knowledge. Talk about identity theft.

As Rebecca Skloot succinctly summed it up herself on Facebook in a much longer post: 
Just in time for ‪#‎BannedBooksWeek, a parent in Tennessee has confused gynecology with pornography and is trying to get my book banned from the Knoxville high school system
 This one really gets me even more upset for two reasons:

  • This book is a great supplement to the entire “Black Lives Matter” campaigns that have focused on violence by police against black people. While this book does not feature run-ins between black people and the police, it serves as a testament to the history of this struggle. This book should be taught in American high schools to support current events with a historical perspective. Black lives have been seen as less important throughout our society in many situations.
  • Discussions of cervical cancer is not pornographic. If anything this book will teach young women the importance of getting regular pap smears and gynecological check ups. Something that many women don’t do regularly, even though it is a simple, cheap, and quick test that could save their life. And with the challenges to Planned Parenthood [who provide no cost pap smears to any and all women who walk through their doors] going on right now, this message is more important than ever. 
Okay, that will be my only rant... I mean post... on Banned Books Week. But please, find a way to speak up about the issue yourself this week-- and every week.  Read a banned book, suggest one to a patron. You can access the official resources for librarians here.

You can access past RA for All posts about Banned Book Week here

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