Guest posting on the blog today is my super bestest reading friend Kelly, from Reading With Analysis. I was supposed to post this last month for Banned Books Week, but with the move, Vegas trip, and everything in between it got lost in the shuffle! SO! Do me a favor, and please welcome Kelly back to the blog!
As a reader, I have always been lucky. Not only was I born in a comparatively prosperous, middle-class neighborhood in southern California (and thus privileged in so many ways, including weather and proximity to delicious Mexican food and rather diverse culture), I was born to a reader who likes to own books and who has a deep-seated hatred of being told what to do. I was always surrounded by books, and they weren’t always the anesthetized, “family friendly” books so popular among other conservative, religious folk in the eighties. If my mom wanted to read a book, she bought it, even if the other ladies in church, had they known, would have been scandalized. It was wonderful. Still is, actually.
My mom owns so many books, it’s a marvel. And her tastes are incredibly diverse. In my house there were romance novels nestled up against thrillers, bookended by memoirs and biographies and self-help books and books on prayer, the Bible, biblical history, and lots and lots of books about Jesus written by white men. In fourth grade, after I had read my way through all the (interesting) books my (religious) school’s library had to offer — every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, nature book, elementary science book, or unauthorized “biography” of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding in sight — I went home and started sneaking books out of my mom’s collection.
In fifth grade, I changed schools and had a new library to explore, but my mom’s books, full of windows to adulthood, beckoned. I loved Where the Red Fern Grows and cried when I got to the end (which unfortunately occurred in class, while everyone else was reading the third chapter. Let’s just say I got a lot of 10-year-old side eye that day, and I couldn’t even explain to them why I was crying… it would ruin the story…), but I also cried at the romance novels I read in secret (and didn’t understand at all).
Through fourth grade I had an established place in a hierarchy, a history with the other kids, and a PK best friend to help me contextualize the world and feel comfortable in my place in it. From fifth grade on, I was just a too tall, too earnest, too naive kid in a sea of cynical children and teachers who aligned in a thoroughly foreign (to me) hierarchy of socio-economic status and “coolness” in which I had no place at all.
But there were always books.
Books didn’t care if I didn’t know what the curse words meant. Books didn’t care if I missed all the sub-context. Books really didn’t care if I wore that neon green stegosaurus sweatshirt every freaking day. Books don’t judge; people have the corner of the market on that one. And books were always there for me, because I was lucky enough to be surrounded by them and to be my mom’s daughter.
The awful thing about people applying the same judgment to books that they use on their peers — only accepting the pretty ones, perhaps, or the ones whose stories and values present no challenge to the status quo — is that they limit access to those books that might be most beneficial to a child or young adult or adult who needs a story that presents an alternate view. By silencing or censoring books, people end up silencing and censoring those people who most need to find a way to be heard.
So here’s to the libraries, and the librarians, the book stores, and the book addicts of the world. Here’s to the writers who create worlds for displaced souls. And here’s to the readers who give a collective middle finger to the banned book list. Also, here’s to my mom for being my librarian and only occasionally telling me to be quiet.