As the parent of three avid readers, I agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon's point that what is considered "banning" in the book trade is known in the parenting world as doing our job. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal this week, she writes:
It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person's life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks "censorship!"
Books transform lives. That is why we write. We write through the pain or memory of our own experience, we write through the gratitude or sorrow of others. Every time we put finger to keyboard we write to tell a story that has the potential to change a person's life. If we didn't have that expectation, the effort would be simply a form of public masturbation. Which brings us to the question of how any book that is filled with gore that runs the gamut from rape to incest to addiction to murder and every variance in between, without any of those things being absolutely essential to the development of character or plot, can be lauded as being a solid addition to the life of the mind for a child.
How can any writer claim, as Sherman Alexie claims, that he writes the particular kinds of books that he writes for teenagers not because he wants to "protect them" because, he says, it is "far too late for that," but to "give them weapons -- in the form of words and ideas -- that will help them fight their monsters." Mr. Alexie, gushes that he "writes in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."
Well. This country has sent thousands of its youth to die, and still some of us control-freak adults get off our posteriors and do our best to prevent the next "one" kid who is about to be turned into a killing machine. What we don't do is present the kids around us with handbooks for how to become better murderers. This country has spent its money substituting the regurgitation of facts for knowledge and still some of us interfering know-it-all adults lobby our schools to do things differently. We certainly don't sit on the sidelines and congratulate our little oafs for just, you know, doing what kids these days are "supposed to be doing." There are pederasts and psychopaths alive and kicking in the ether that is so easily accessed by our kids, but some of us adults believe it is a good thing to teach our kids how to navigate that world without exposing them to the pathologies of depraved adults.
What we don't do is give them an alphabetized, cross reference index that points them to each heinous website. And, just like the patron of the Boone County Library in Kentucky (who tried to get Cheryl Rainfield's book Scars off the shelves) points out, and this is close to my heart, we don't give a young anorexic girl a great ball-by-ball account of how to starve herself to death. Because, you see, 40-60 percent of high school girls have considered that particular form of suicide and 2.3 percent of them have died from it while undergoing treatment, which leaves a nice healthy figure of those who were never diagnosed and never received treatment.
Kids one block removed from my neighborhood in wealthy suburban Philadelphia go to bed hungry and, trust me, having been a hungry kid, I don't think they are begging to read about starvation. I have been the child at the receiving end of violence and I would give my life to protect my own from such violence, and that includes the violence of the words and images that, once they take up residence in our heads, cannot be erased. I can assure you that, growing up, I did not sit around wishing I could read about the hardships I was undergoing. No. I read Joyce, Blyton, Donne, Harper Lee and Shakespeare. I held on to longing, fairytale, a human communion with whatever it was that I recognized as the divine and the beauty of language. I read about snow and Santa Claus and sailing boats, having adventures and bringing down capitalist bastards a la Yury Olesha in The Three Fat Men.
Suffering is just that, suffering. There is nothing glorious or noteworthy about it. If you've truly experienced it, it hurts. Bad. And the last thing you ever want to do is to inflict it upon a child. The last thing that one should do for a child who has suffered is to introduce them to a little more of the same. Here's to all those adults who, having undertaken to have children of their own, choose to care for all children by keeping their faith with the real-life dream of childhood, who try each day to hold the coordinates steady for them as the adults in our lives tried their best to hold them steady for us a long time ago. Ms. Gurdon should take a bow for having the guts to tell it like it is.
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