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I cannot conceive of the fear and small-mindedness that lets people decide that they know what’s best for everyone else. Yes, it’s fear. Fear that a reading class is a thinking class and thinking of course leads to questions. Fear of the world; fear of the unknown; fear of answers that might not fit your worldview and, heaven forbid, cause you to rethink some of your beliefs–I believe all of this is what contributes to a person’s decision to challenge a book.
That’s fine, book challengers. You read what you want and avoid what you don’t want to read. You’ll be missing out on some amazing books. They might not be emotionally easy books to read, but they’re important for that very reason. It’s easy to be complacent. But the world would be better if we could all get outside our narrow little confines and walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. Reading books of any kind helps us do that.
As readers, we all know the transportive power of books. As I write this, I am reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I’ve gotten to a very tough part. But this white Southern girl is realizing what it was like to be a black woman growing up in the Jim Crow South, and it’s ugly. I think of myself as being open-minded and empathetic, but I will be a better person for reading this book and experiencing what Maya Angelou was brave enough to share.
Read what you want. Monitor what your kids read. You’re the parent. You should absolutely be involved in what they read. I do realize that not every book is appropriate for every age. But I would respectfully remind parents that some books are great openers for difficult conversations that you need to have with your children. I would also respectfully remind parents that the forbidden fruit is sweetest. Deny your children a book and they will move heaven and earth to get it and see what the big deal is.
But don’t ever tell me what I can or can’t read. I am a grown woman and I am responsible for my own actions. I have read Harry Potter and I am still a Christian. I have read The Kite Runner and I don’t feel the need to assault young boys. I have read To Kill a Mockingbird and I am not a racist. I have read Catch-22 and I am not a misogynist.
Let me tell you what I have learned.
I have read Harry Potter and I have learned the value of friendship and loyalty and courage and love. I have read The Kite Runner and I have a better understanding of life in a country with which mine is at war. I have read To Kill a Mockingbird and I have seen the terrible effects of racism through the innocent eyes of a child, and I have wept. I have read Catch-22 and I have seen the high price that men in battle pay during a war. And I am better for all of them.
So stay in your narrow, dark, and fearful world. Just keep it to yourself.
I have worlds and universes that have yet to be dreamed of open before me. And I won’t let you take it away from me or from anyone else.