I read across-the-board as a kid, and I often read on board, on a plane to wherever, or waiting for a plane to somewhere. My family moved around a lot and traveled extensively, and books helped me get through many idle hours. Books also kept me company in new places with new faces. Books were a way to practice my mother tongues. They provided a sense of the familiar, an anchor. They were also a wonderful window to the new cultures I was introduced to, a fast track to things I knew nothing about but couldn’t wait to learn.
To me, books are much more than just stories. Books are language. Books are culture. They are time machines and travel agencies. They can take you back and give you glimpses into the future. They can take you to the bottom of the ocean and the far reaches of the universe. Books can teach you new ways of thinking and seeing, but they can also give you confirmation that you are not alone, that everyone, everywhere, has felt as you feel, has dealt with what you are going through, has harbored the same doubts, the same hurts, the same fears. And survived.
Reading is much more than a highly recommended hobby. Reading can change a life, save a life, and denying others not only a pleasant time but a shot at solace is a power no one person should have. It’s a power individuals wield all the same, and one of things Banned Books Week is all about. This year marks its 30th anniversary, a reminder that open access to information and the freedom to read and to explore and express ideas is still a contested matter.
The road to banned or challenged books is paved with the good intentions of well-meaning citizens. Removal requests center on books that contain profanities, racism and/or sex, most are aimed at schools and school libraries and signed, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” I’m a parent. I totally understand the urge to protect. And I know they say it takes a village, but I’m sorry, some things you just don’t get to decide for my family and what my children read is one of them. When it comes to books, the choices your family makes cannot, should not, extend to mine.
Besides, as John Green has said, “Oftentimes what people are getting upset about is precisely what the novel is arguing against.” Books are sneaky. Books are wise. They are subversive and full of hidden truths. There is no room for dictators in a democracy. No single person should be able to decide what the rest of us read. What if what you don’t want to hear about is what someone needs to hear the most?