I know, you can’t tell, now. I’m pretty loud, nowadays. But as a quiet and socially awkward kid, who grew into a quiet and even more socially awkward teen, books were my escape.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the library was my church. Well, ok, fine, CHURCH was also my church, I mean, I went to church, but if I had gotten to CHOOSE a church, it would be the library. It still is, too. That hasn’t changed. Now, given my choice in the matter, I worship at the dual temples of Library and Theater. But the library. It’s still the same, all this time later, walking in there. The scent of it. The hush of it. The heady knowledge of all of those books, and you could check out any of them, and each of them has a different world inside, waiting for you to discover it and get lost in it.
There was nothing I loved more than getting lost in a book, as a kid. My parents still tell stories about bringing me to family events and me refusing to interact with anyone, just curling up on the couch and reading until it was time to go home. I spent an entire family reunion in the car reading a Stephen King book because I had just discovered him and there were SO MANY BOOKS and they were SO GODDAMN GOOD that it was all I wanted to be doing. (Oh, and also I hate family reunions. I DON’T KNOW WHO ANY OF YOU ARE. So nervous-making.) My father always wanted to take us on long drives on Sundays with a secret final destination; I would get so frustrated because without him telling me how long I’d be in the car, I’d never know how many books to bring with me, and there was nothing more painful than running out of reading material and being forced to sit and stare at the landscape or (shudder) interact with people.
It’s Banned Books Week this week, September 26-October 3. It’s appropriate this week comes right in my favorite time of year, and right as kids are coming back to school, I think. One of the purposes of the week, other than to highlight banned books, is to “celebrate the freedom to read.” What a beautiful phrase. The freedom to read. Because it is freedom, really, to be able to walk into a library and have a choice of whatever you’d like, and it’s freedom to be able to read it without fear of persecution, and it’s freedom to have the education needed to understand what’s being read. It’s a beautiful, rich freedom. It’s something I’m thankful for every day.
I researched some of the most frequent banned books, in honor of this week, and chose some of my favorites from the list (and one that I haven’t read, but it makes me UTTERLY FURIOUS) to highlight and talk about briefly. I know most of you are inundated with banned books posts this week. You know what? Good. Read them. Find out why the books are banned, and then, oh, I don’t know, READ THE BOOKS. Because someone banning a book is taking away someone else’s freedom. Without getting too political, we’re a country losing more freedom every day. Be a little subversive. Stick it to the man. Read a banned book. Or, even better? Since you’ve probably already read these, share a banned book with a younger reader. Kids, especially teens, LOVE the idea of doing something they’re not supposed to. Well, play up that angle, if you must. All of these books are guaranteed to open up conversations, open up minds, and teach readers something – and piss someone off in the process. (Also, these are all vetted by me, and I have a little over THREE DECADES of experience with amazing literature. I’m no fly-by-night ne’er-do-well, here. THESE ARE EXCELLENT NOVELS.)
Today, I’m concentrating on children’s books; tomorrow, young adult novels; and Thursday, adult novels (which could also be read by young adults, because any book I read today, I probably would have read as a young adult. I was reading quite a bit I most likely “shouldn’t” have been, as a teen. I don’t see any long-term damage from it, other than I had the vocabulary of an 80-year-old retired librarian and the other kids hated me.) So yes, you get three days of banned books posts. If you are only here because sometimes I can be funny, I apologize. Maybe some of the things I say ABOUT the books will be funny. But mostly, they’ll be pissed.
I have to give a disclaimer, here. I know Google gives the option of putting a pop-up for “adult language.” But I’m going to be cussing over the next few days. Probably lots. Banning books PISSES ME OFF. People that ban books PISS ME OFF. They have nothing better to do than read books and decide – as if they are King Shit of Turd Mountain (someone said this to me once and it made me laugh so hard I snorted because it’s the stupidest, yet I keep using it, because I have the sense of humor of a teenage boy, quite often) – what is SAFE FOR THE CHILDREN. Oh, my, my favorite argument, WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?!?!? You know what? The children, they’re going to be alright. The children see worse than what’s in these books every day at school, on television, on the bus, amongst their groups of friends. If it’s in a book, parents have the option of also reading the book, and then having a meaningful discussion with their child after they’ve finished reading. I can’t wait until my nephew is old enough to read books with substance. I have grand plans for his literary education. (He’s already showing a lot of interest in books, so score one for genetics! Both his mother and I are huge book people, so we’re really jazzed about his love of being read to – and he’s already “reading” to his stuffed animals, so it’s only a matter of time before he learns to read and then ALL BETS ARE OFF, suckers, The Nephew and I are GOING TO START A BOOK CLUB OF TWO.)
Reason for ban: Sexist, critical of the foresting industry, undermining of the parental, school, and religious authority
Plot: the story of the relationship between a tree and the boy that she loves throughout his (and her) lifetime.
The Giving Tree has the distinction of making me cry like a crazy person in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble in college. I didn’t read any Silverstein as a child (I don’t know why, I guess he just wasn’t on my radar?) and a college friend recommended him to me. As a poor person (still am!) I went to the bookstore to read them. (Still do that!) And bawled my eyes out, right there in the children’s section. Mothers were dragging their children away from me. I have bought this book for so many of my friends who are having children, I can’t even count. And now I find out it’s sexist? Well, that’s nice. You could reverse the sex of the tree and the human and it would be the same story. The other criticisms are ridiculous as well. It is BEAUTIFUL. Sad, but beautiful. As are his other children’s books. Silverstein’s books have a twisted sense of humor and he understood how children’s minds worked. You can’t go wrong introducing your child to Silverstein.
“Critical of the foresting industry?” Yeah. Give me a break, please. There’s one mention of “foresting,” without giving too much away, and it’s not “critical.” I think someone was grasping at straws. Or maybe at leaves.
As for undermining everything and anything that a child should be respectful of – the point of this book is love. This is a book about sharing and love. Is the boy a bit of a selfish dick? Yes. But until the kid is older, he or she isn’t going to get that. It’s lovely, and it made me cry at the Barnes and Noble.
Reason for ban - “an attack on families headed by heterosexuals”
This is the one that makes me furious. First, look at the cover.
Then, look at a real life photo of the penguins that inspired the book.
HOW CAN YOU HATE PENGUIN DADDIES WHO LOVE ONE ANOTHER YOU SOULLESS VOID.
The penguin daddies are not attacking your heterosexual family unit! The penguin daddies just want to raise little Tango! The penguin daddies – I hate to say – DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU EXIST! They are too busy being adorable and penguiny and diving for fish and waddling around and raising their baby! They have no interest in furthering the insidious homosexual agenda that has you so up in arms! Why? Oh, let’s see, I don’t know, how about BECAUSE THEY ARE FUCKING PENGUINS YOU HOMOPHOBIC MOTHERFUCKER?
Fine, no, I HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK. But you know what? Unless the final page of this book says something like “And Roy, Silo and Tango want YOU to know that if you don’t have two daddies, YOUR FAMILY UNIT IS BROKEN IRREPARABLY” then your argument IS INVALID AND IDIOTIC. There are gay penguins. It is a fact. This is a touching story. This is a fact. THE PENGUIN DADDIES WERE SO DESPERATE TO RAISE A CHILD TOGETHER THEY ATTEMPTED TO RAISE A ROCK before they were given little Tango to raise together. If this doesn’t tug at your heartstrings YOU ARE AN ANDROID PERSON.
I’m sorry. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this? But my #1 of all time without any peer favorite animal? The penguin. Penguins are CHEERFUL. Penguins are ADORABLE. Penguins are KIND OF DORKY. You can’t watch a penguin waddling around and swimming and taking care of their eggs and such without a HUGE GRIN. (Well, except if you’re watching that penguin documentary that was made of tears. DAMN YOU MORGAN FREEMAN!) Once, I went to the zoo? And a penguin escaped from his little penguin enclosure and waddled over to the otter enclosure and started swimming gleefully with the otter. The otter didn’t know what to make of this! The otter was baffled! And I was a little worried there would be a bloodbath because I don’t know the ins and outs of the animal kingdom and/or how bloodthirsty the otter as an animal might be. But no, the penguin charmed the (hypothetical) PANTS off that otter (hypothetical because otters don’t HAVE pants, they are totally exhibitionists), and they swam around like good old chums. IT WAS THE BEST. You could not look away. BFFs cross species LINES when it comes to penguins. Then it was feeding time in the penguin enclosure and the penguin had to go and that was a sad parting because friends were made that day. BEST FRIENDS.
STOP BANNING BOOKS ABOUT PENGUIN DADDIES.