It’s Banned Books week. And as you guys well know, we at Part Time Monster love books. As a literature student, I have spent and still spend significant portions of my time reading and interpreting texts. And my Monster contributors are avid readers and interpreters, too. With the exceptions of Gene’O (who we all know has a predilection for literature) and Cat, I met every Monster contributor at some point in my college career, most of them in literature classes.
And all this reminds me a bit of a story. When Cat and I were young—probably around 11 or so—she was reading things I wasn’t really allowed to read. Of course, I don’t think she was allowed to read those things, either, but there were books in her house that weren’t in my house, books that were violent, books that had copious amounts of sex in them, books that had cursing. Books that, looking back, I suspect might’ve actually been in my house but were hidden better than those at Cat’s house.
Anyway, Cat would dog-ear the “best” places in the books and bring them to school, and my group of middle school girlfriends would giggle as about 5 of us read a page at a time. And once, Cat loaned me a book I totally knew I shouldn’t have. Like I knew so much that it would be disapproved of that I hid the book and only read it when I could lock my door.
But I knew that I was hiding those books because I was too young for them, not because my mother would want those books erased or that she would censor them. My mother had, and has, a profound respect for the written word and an unrelenting belief in freedom of speech and press, even when her own morals clash with what is being published. When I was a teen on an R.L. Stine binge, for instance, she complained about me reading something so gruesome and not reading anything more Literary.
And Literary comes with its own sort of distinctions and problems, all sorts of questions, distinctions, and value judgments, but for us, part of what it always meant was books that were educational. There were books that were considered canonical, and my mother wanted me to read them. She wanted me to be a Well Read Woman. She wanted me to read Shakespeare and Jane Austen and Harper Lee and Tolkien in addition to R.L. Stine and whatever else I wanted to read. Early on, she taught me that reading is education, and that was a valuable lesson to have about fiction, one that I think we often forget: fiction teaches us.
When we ban or try to ban books, we’re banning a teaching tool. We’re banning linguistic and historic education. We’re silencing voices, teachers from the past. On the list of most often banned books sit some of the most prolific classics—The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. But every book deserves the chance to be read, classic or no. Every voice deserves the chance to be heard, and every lesson deserves the chance to be learned.
Today, I say thanks to all the readers, to all the writers, to all the librarians and to all the teachers. And I say happy Banned Books Week—-now go read, folks!