Banned Books Week

The first time the idea of a book being banned really hit home for me was my senior year of high school. For a big project we had to choose from a selection of books and create one of many different options (book trailer, report, presentation, etc.). Many students picked The DaVinci Code at the beginning of the semester and then procrastinated the entire time.

Near the middle of the semester, a ruling hit the classroom. Several books, including The Da Vinci Code, had been banned from being used in the classroom. Students (many who hadn't even started the book yet) panicked that their projects were ruined. Thankfully, I had a teacher who wasn't afraid to play with the rules. She found the loophole to let everyone who wanted to, use The Da Vinci Code. Since the banning hadn't happened until mid-semester, the board had ruled that if students had already started the book they could continue their projects. "But Miss Pritchett, I haven't started it yet!" students would say. "Of course you have. You're on page 1, that's starting it." 

The ruling against Da Vinci Code was one of several ridiculous attempts at banning my school participated in. I was called to the office on fears of being a witch because I asked about books on paganism (really), Candide was banned for 'homosexual content', Harry Potter was banned, and a pastor brought to the school to help grieving students process the suicide of a friend said the deceased was burning in hell for her sins. All and all, an A+ welcoming environment (and a public school).

I ran the literary club at my high school and we put out a magazine once a year of poetry, stories and artwork. One year we were forced to pull a poem the entire club loved because it featured the love between two women. It infuriated me but looking back on it, I'm a little grateful for the experience. (Also for the fact that the woman who wrote the poem knew the club supported her and has gone on to do incredible things. <3) 

See banned books give me some kind of hope in a twisted way. The fact that we continue to ban stories tells me that we still view books as such powerful, corrupting influences that they must be controlled. And that makes me, as a writer, feel a bit like a wicked witch conjuring up dangerous potions. The power of words and stories is engrained into us and sometimes those words tell of a world that no one wants to recognize. 

Storytelling is one of the earliest forms of communication. It's how information about danger, wonder and hope were spread well before written word ever existed. I have to wonder if any stories were ever banned when storytelling was still just verbal. Was the power of the stories still there when it existed only in the fleeting moment or is the power in the permanent(ish) nature of the written word. When a story exists in a shareable text it's much harder to control it. Especially in this day and age of the internet, nothing ever really disappears forever (which is it's own problem) but it gives more staying power to stories that would have previously been banned and expelled from the discourse. The internet, for all its many, many flaws, has opened the gates of storytelling. Allowing, for good or bad, anyone to share their words with a limited amount of censorship.

This week I'm happy to enjoy several banned books, some of them are old favorites, and some are books I've never read before. I suggest you pick up a dangerous (banned) book this week that features a topic you know almost nothing about. Don't just read the comfortable, familiar books that have been challenged. Push yourself to read something that makes you uncomfortable and learn from that experience.

Most importantly, remember you've already started any book you touch, you're just on page one.