Don't discourage reading by banning

Sep. 20, 2013 @ 05:15 PM

I’m not going to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” to John Michael.

But it’s not simply because the book is a work of erotic fiction or that my son is turning just four months old on Sunday.

That’d just be incredibly creepy.

Certainly, it’s not because “Grey” ranks fourth on the list of most challenged books in 2012.

Mostly, I won’t read the book to him because the writing is laughably bad. I am relatively certain that, even at his current literacy level, the baby can drool a better work of fiction on his favorite blanket. Or, at the very least, it would generate something I’d sooner read.

But I respect anyone else’s inherent right to find value in that book. Like it? Love it? More power to you. Given its undeniable popularity, “Fifty Shades of Grey” obviously deserves to take up space on the library shelf.

We’re on the verge of Banned Books Week, commemorated from Sept. 22-28, which recognizes the ongoing effort to fight censorship and promote literacy. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 464 challenges to remove books from libraries in 2012.

“Grey,” by E.L. James, was targeted for offensive language and sexually explicit acts.

Perhaps unsurprising, many of the challenged books in the top 10 are cited for offensive language, such as the “Captain Underpants” series (most challenged book of the year), “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.

None of the challenges seem to mention flagrant hygiene concerns. I was briefly mortified by depictions in “Jamberry” of a bear and friends capering in fruit preserves that would almost certainly soon end up on crackers or sandwiches.

“Strawberry ponies, strawberry lambs, dancing in meadows of strawberry jam,” the book reads.

Horrifying. Yet I’m not bothered by letting parents read about such a travesty to their children.

When I was in junior high school in Orlando, I read my first Stephen King novel: “The Stand.” Chock full of violence, death and despair. The scene most indelibly etched in my young mind’s eye was without question Larry Underwood’s trek through New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel, slogging his way through piles of putrefying corpses.

I read William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” with its children hunting children, written decades before the “Hunger Games” series.

I read “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, with its incest, patricide and eye gouging, written centuries before George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” books.

I read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” with its violence, adulterous behavior, occult events and suicidal acts that was written long, long before Bill Compton first ventured into the fictional town of Bon Temps in the “Sookie Stackhouse” novels.

I read all these things and, I like to tell myself, turned out mostly OK.

I’m stymied by the mindset of people who would seek to pull books from library shelves for reasons such as language, violence or even explicit material. First, we shoulld encourage our children to read. Too few of them do as it is. Too few of their parents read, for that matter. Second, forbidden fruit is often the most tempting. Tell a kid they’re not allowed to do something and, chances are, they’ll find a way to do it.

Why not take a more rational approach? If you’ve read “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and determined for yourself – not because someone else said so – that it’s inappropriate for your child because it includes drug use and suicide, just explain that the subject matter is too intense for them right now. Offer them something else to read, but make it clear that they might be ready for “Thirteen Reasons Why” in a few years.

I do feel compelled to get a copy of “And Tango Makes Three” – a perennial favorite target on the challenged books list for its portrayal of a pair of gay male penguins raising a baby penguin.

Challenges like these run directly counter to the message I want to send to John Michael as he grows older. He should be curious about everything, open to new ideas and tolerant of – maybe even hungry for - different points of view.

 

Contact Wes Platt at wplatt@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6684. Follow Wes Platt on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.