A whole lot of years ago, I held my infant son, reading him the very first story of his new life – Uncle Shleby’s ABZ’s. Due to my upbringing, I had no idea what a Shel Silverstein book for children was like, let alone on for adults. I remember trying to nurse my brand new baby while the tears of laughter streamed down my cheeks and across my breast, filling his mouth and ruining his lunch. So began his indoctrination into challenged books, and the notion that moms really do ruin everything. I think it’s gone pretty well so far.
It’s Banned Book week, and I am proud to say that, as for me and my household, we will read banned books.
Forever ago, when I was just a little girl in a little right-wing Christian cult, I came across a copy of the kind of book they frown on little girls in little right-wing cults having access to. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time…all I knew was that for the first time in my life, I was reading something that did more than just touch me or captivate me, this book resonated with me. I understood what the author was feeling, I felt a connection to the story and to the characters and though I didn’t understand some of the material, I understood all of the emotion behind it.
My mother would have (possibly literally) killed me had she caught me with that book. My church certainly would have burnt it, and all ties to me. I didn’t care. I couldn’t not read it. The book was Go Ask Alice, and it is one of the most commonly banned/challenged books to date. It is also one of the many books that changed the direction of my entire life.
My children have already made a dent in the banned/challenged books list. My oldest son is head over heels in love with Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five and Catcher in the Rye, and my two youngest worship The Phantom Tollbooth. They’ve survived To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn with an appreciation for writing that is truly brave and a better understanding of a world they don’t see, but need to understand because it still exists on the peripheral of their lives.
I remember being their age, discovering Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. I remember being just a little bit older, meeting Steinbeck, Hemingway and Angelou for the first time. I distinctly remember drowning in Beloved and The Color Purple, and clawing my way back to the surface with Audre Lorde.
I can look down the lists of the most commonly banned or challenged books and pretty accurately pinpoint every stage of my becoming. I can’t imagine keeping my children from the literature that has shaped their world, shaped their country, shaped their parents. And so, we read banned books. Yes, even Lolita when the time is right. We read them to share an experience with the author, with each other, and with the world around us.
We read the words that people are afraid to say or afraid to hear, because those are the words that matter most.