If youâ€™re reading this blog, chances are you have read a book that someone has tried to ban at some point in your life, even if you werenâ€™t aware of it. Some recognized classics of literature have been the subject of complaints from people trying to get them banned from school and even public libraries: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, just for a start. Thatâ€™s why every year many groups band together to celebrate Banned Books Week, this year from September 26 to October 3.
One of my favorite books, which was introduced to me as assigned reading in high school, is Kate Chopinâ€™s The Awakening. This book has been attacked by a group of parents in Kansas calling themselves Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools. On their page explaining the reasons they think this book is inappropriate, they write â€śThe book was widely criticized for its frank, open discussion of the emotional and sexual “needs” of women.â€ť Well, yes, but that was one hundred and ten years agoâ€¦ and nowadays we no longer use quotation marks when referring to the sexual needs of women, so please get with the program. The parent group sums up the book by saying, â€śParents should be aware of content such as adultery (with no remorse), suicide, and extreme sensuality. It is another dark, depressing book.â€ť I guess you are only allowed to portray adultery and sensuality as something to be ashamed of, and that we should only read light, happy books? Somehow I just donâ€™t follow this logic. (And for anyone whoâ€™s read this book, youâ€™ll know that it contains the most PG depictions of sex ever. The book pulls at your emotions, not your nether regions. Even the suicide scene is surprisingly tame.)
The majority of complaints filed are made by either parents or library patrons, and many of them center around sexual explicitness, offensive language, violence and the like, which frankly might not be appropriate for all ages. (Which is why itâ€™s always a good idea to play and active role in your childâ€™s life and discuss such issues within the family.) Yet some of the complaints seem more subjective (and harmless) to me, like â€śreligious viewpointâ€ť or â€śpolitical viewpointâ€ť or the ever-popular â€śhomosexuality.â€ť (For example, Uncle Bobby’s Wedding or Heather Has Two Mommies.) These people would out-and-out like no one to have access to materials bearing viewpoints they donâ€™t agree with. And what always gets me are people trying to ban books for the mere reason of â€śsexual educationâ€ť such as Itâ€™s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health or the book Itâ€™s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.
Why is this important to Pagans? Oh, Iâ€™m getting to that. If you look over the lists of the most frequently challenged books on the website of the American Library Association (ALA), or this list of banned and challenged books on the website of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), youâ€™ll see books being attacked again and again for what is listed as â€śoccult/Satanismâ€ť â€“ the same category that once housed Harry Potter for so many years, as well as books like Bridge to Terebithia, the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, and Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya. (None of which are Satanic, as far as I know.) In the latter book, Ultima is a curandera who lives with the six-year-old boy protagonist, and includes discussions of witches, ghosts, and other mystical things alongside the Catholicism of the boyâ€™s mother.
Therefore, Pagans should remain vigilant as to what books are being challenged and why. If some rowdy parents want to challenge every book that portrays witches or mystics as positive characters, itâ€™s only a matter of time before theyâ€™ll want to challenge witches who teach in public schools or work in governmental positions (oh wait â€“ they already do that), lest we give their kids the impression that witches might be nice, even helpful folks! The First Amendment protects free speech as well as free exercise of religion. So anything we can do to back up good olâ€™ number one will benefit everyone who values tolerance.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So what can you do? Unlike the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools, who would council you to raise hell followed by â€śpraying for everyone involved,â€ť the ALAâ€™s suggestions for ways to celebrate Banned Books Week include:
Get involved. Go to school board meetings. Volunteer to help your local school or public library create an event that discusses the freedom to read and helps educate about censorship.
Speak out. Write letters to the editor, your public library director and your local school principal supporting the freedom to read. Talk to your neighbors and friends about why everyone should be allowed to choose for themselves and their families what they read.
Exercise your rights! Check out or re-read a favorite banned book. Encourage your book group to read and discuss one of the books. Give one of your favorite books as a gift.
So, what good banned books have you read lately? Do you think itâ€™s ever appropriate to ban books? Check out the lists of banned books linked to above, and share your thoughts with us here!