Friday, October 5, 2007

To Read or Not To Read

When you browse through the bookstore or library, trying to decide if it will be a steamy romance or a heart pounding horror, have you ever considered not having the freedom to choose which books you can read? This week is Banned Books Week, which has been observed since 1982. It is a week to celebrate the freedom to read, the freedom to choose, the freedom to express our opinion, and the importance of our first amendment rights.

In 2006 the ten most challenged books seemed to share the same two themes. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von Ziegesar, Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky were all challenged due to homosexuality. While five others (Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison, and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier) listed sexual content as a reason for the challenge. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz made the list for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity.

The truth is, books are usually challenged with the best intentions - mainly to protect children from difficult "inappropriate" material. Although this may seem like a realistic idea, parents and only parents actually have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children to these resources.

As a bookseller, I have the pleasure of discussing books with many parents and grandparents who seem to fall into one of two categories. The first group encourages their children and grandchildren to read anything that may be of interest to them. They are thrilled that the kids are reading and are not about to discourage them. After all, anything they read in a book they have probably already seen at the movies, on TV or in a video game. The others are the exact opposite. They read everything before allowing their children to do so. Anything "inappropriate" the child is forbidden to read.

I have to admit, I fall into the first category. I feel that based on the child's background and experiences, that is how the text will be interpreted. For instance, a romance may have the sentence, "they fell into a passionate embrace". Based on what the reader may have experienced, that sentence may mean a big hug or to fall naked onto the bed.

So, what about you? Which of the two categories, if either, do you fall into and why?