I expected to find classic but subversive texts like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Huckleberry Finn. Those are kind of no-brainers. I was amused but not surprised to see the Harry Potter series. I couldn’t help a little snort of laughter to see just about every Judy Blume book I’d ever read on the list. I guess since I’m not an outright anarchist, sex fiend, or complete social pariah those books really didn’t do me any harm. Actually, I recall that my impression of Forever was that it was much more a cautionary tale than anything else. Notwithstanding, its theme of pre-marital sex is highly likely to make more than a few people upset. My own mother, had she known what I was reading, would have forbidden it in horror. (This was, naturally just a perk to me, as I could look studious by reading while secretly being “up to no good at all.”) The take away point for me at the time was that sex has consequences beyond the obvious ones of disease or pregnancy. It gave me pause, because was I really ready for that? As a teenager, I didn’t think I was. Among the majority of my peers I remained a virgin for a shockingly long time. Let’s just say I was out of high school but under thirty and leave it at that.
Of course, as one English teacher put it, “It seems like anything that has something important to say, or that has an interesting plot with some important, real world conflict makes someone who feels uncomfortable attempt to ban it. If people understood the value of their own discomfort they would ban things that didn’t try to push them a little.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I once remarked in a fit of bravado that I’d try just about anything at least once. After all, how would I know I didn’t like it if I didn’t try? This applies to food as well as various other activities, allowing that monkey brains a la “Indiana Jones” or pretty much anything involving pain are off the table. Before you–dear reader–go off into your imagination and ascribe all sorts of wild behavior to me, don’t. I have standards as to which lines I will or won’t cross. They might not be the same as yours. You might even consider them either too stuffy or too loose for your liking. I believe personal limits and boundaries are important. Despite that, I also believe that being somewhat flexible within your personal limits can expand your horizons and help you grow. Most important of all, I believe in being aware of consequences. If you have reason to believe that your actions will cause serious harm to you or to another you ought to take a deep breath and reconsider what you are doing. Even if you are willing to be responsible for the impact upon yourself that your actions may have, you are still honor bound to consider others.
All that being said, books are the domain of the mind. Especially now that e-readers and tablets abound you can read absolutely anything you like anywhere you like. Whether you are reading a completely trashy bodice-ripper romance, high brow academic material, the kind of pornographic smut that used to require a brown paper wrapper, or quantum physics just for the hell of it, no one else need be any the wiser. Whatever it is you choose to read will lie squarely in the privacy of your own mind. There, I believe we are entitled to the freedom of our thoughts, be they murderous or altruistic. One way or the other we are bound only by the constraint of translating thought into action. Material that strays into dark, dangerous, dusty and little seen corners of the mind is not necessarily there to be acted upon in a way that negatively impacts others. Rather, it is an act of introspection and self-study. It is a place to grapple with the concepts and places we would rather ignore. But bringing them into the light affords us a place to grow. Without growth living things die.
So give a read through this year’s list of banned books, as well as those that made the cut in previous years. You may find a surprising number of old favorites. Take a fresh look and consider what earned them their scandalous place. You may find books you never knew and authors whose metaphoric paths you never crossed. No matter what you find, I wish you happy reading and a list of new places to experience, if only in the boundless space of your own imagination.