This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association celebrating the freedom to read. The ALA works with librarians, teachers, and community leaders to ensure that controversy doesn’t lead to book banning.
Many have already blogged about the political aspects of this event, such as what it means for readers to be able to seek out unpopular ideas and what it means for writers to have the freedom to express those ideas, so I’m tackling this issue from a less serious perspective. Sort of. *smile*
Freedom to Write
As writers, we know the importance of having the freedom to explore the ideas in our head. For many of us, our subconscious-muse doesn’t like being restrained from thinking wild (maybe even nonsensical) thoughts. Such restraint can freeze our creativity all together.
We all too easily think our work is crap already. We don’t need someone from on high telling us that our writing doesn’t meet a standard or breaks too many rules.
Fiction writing often is about bending or breaking rules. We break rules about sentence fragments, and we break rules about the existence of dragons. We can imagine ourselves a different gender, age, or ethnicity through various characters. We push the envelope to encourage people to think deeper about issues.
I’ve mentioned before that my stories often include at least one element that makes me uncomfortable. That’s okay. I enjoy knowing I have the freedom to do what’s right for the characters and the story.
Playing it safe won’t allow me to dig into my characters’ weaknesses, failures, or emotions. I have to be willing to push them to reveal the deeper truths that give my stories meaning, and that means I have to be willing to push myself—and those “rules.”
Between the edgy aspects of my characters and the paranormal/fantasy aspects of my stories, I can guarantee my stories would fall under someone’s definition of “should be banned.” (Some in my extended family would gleefully add me to that list—just for writing fiction, never mind the romance or the paranormal aspects.) Some of my characters follow no accepted religion, some don’t answer to human laws, and some of my characters swear, have pre-marital sex, or seem like a deviant.
(And some of my characters don’t do any of those things. It’s all about what’s right for the characters and the story, not about me breaking rules just for the sake of being edgy.)
I want the freedom to write my stories without worrying about the subjective preferences of one person or another. I trust that my stories will find their way to those who would enjoy them, and I’m fine with everyone else ignoring them. *smile*
Freedom to Read
Many of the challenges to ban certain books come down to those same subjective preferences. Maybe someone doesn’t like the religion or sex portrayed, simply because it doesn’t match their definition of normal. (Given that my motto is “Why be normal?” portraying only “normal” doesn’t hold much appeal for me. *grin*) Or maybe someone doesn’t think the subject matter is age appropriate. (But that makes the assumption that all kids of the same age have the same maturity level.)
Not all stories will appeal to or are appropriate for every reader. Some adults don’t want to read about profanity or sex, and some don’t mind those elements. Some teens (and even some preteens) are mature enough to handle the dark messages of, say, Hunger Games, and some aren’t. It shouldn’t be up to a random person to decide what we can or can’t choose to read.
Just because something doesn’t appeal to us doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. Like we discussed when comparing literary and genre stories, a preference should not lead to a judgment of value. Yet that’s exactly what banning books equals: a judgment of value based on personal preferences and subjective measures.
Celebrating Stories: What Some Don’t Want Us to Have
To celebrate these freedoms in the face of book-banning controversies, I want to take a moment and highlight the stories that others might want to ban, such as for the most common reasons:
- sexually explicit
- offensive language
- unsuited to age group
- occult/Satanic themes
- religious viewpoint
Do any of your stories include elements that others might challenge for one of those reasons? Take a look at this list of the Top Ten Challenged Books of each of the past 13 years. Are any of those books on your “enjoyed” list?
For example, I enjoyed The Hunger Games, despite its supposed “religious viewpoint,” “insensitivity,” “occult/satanic,” etc. issues. (I’ll admit that enjoyed might be the wrong word for the trilogy because it was a hard read in many ways. However, the powerful story has stuck with me over time.) I also enjoyed Twilight despite its issues, and the Harry Potter series is one of my all-time favorites.
On the other side, I haven’t read another frequent target of book banners, Fifty Shades of Grey, because of the abusive relationship, ethical issues, and poor writing quality, but I still wouldn’t call for the books to be banned. Again, just because I dislike or disagree with something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist.
Heck, some want the entire romance genre to disappear. They say romance stories harm marriages (even though studies have proven the opposite), create harmful expectations (because “weak-minded women” can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality?), and don’t have any literary value (because a whole genre can be judged by someone’s preconceived ideas?).
There are too many who want us to feel guilty or ashamed of our reading (or writing) choices. So I want to take this opportunity to celebrate our reading choices, whatever they are, because choice is important.
We don’t have the right to go through life never being offended by anything we come across. That “right” would create a hideously bland world and would never allow for discussion, much less growth from outside ideas.
So let’s celebrate the stories that don’t appeal to everyone. Let’s celebrate the stories that some try to make us feel guilty or ashamed about but we enjoy anyway. Let’s celebrate the freedom of choice. *smile*
Do any of your stories contain elements that might make some want to ban them? How important to you and your creativity is the freedom to write what you want despite those controversial elements? Have you enjoyed any books on the Challenged Books list? How important to you is the freedom to read what you want? What “guilty” or “secret” pleasure reads do you want to celebrate?Pin It