I’ve been thinking about censorship and book banning a lot lately. There have been several instances in the last few months that have made me wonder aloud — both in my column and here on Lee’s blog, both in the comments and during a previous guest-hosting stint a few weeks back — about the reasons behind this upswing. In a comment regarding last week’s note about the English teacher in Wisconsin being castigated for teaching mystery fiction, I said that I thought some of it had a correlation to the recent election and its outcome and at least one regular reader of this blog disagreed, which means others probably did as well. In some cases, there is an obvious bias involved in the request that books be banned or censored — like the whacko the fine citizens of Alabama have representing them who thinks books featuring gay characters and/or themes should be removed from public and university libraries — and other times it appears to be an issue of parents fearing that their children will be ruined if exposed to thoughts and ideas that run contrary to what they are being taught at home. Lately, this has meant that things involving homosexuals, violence, sex, suicide and drug use are verboten.
So if books containing these things are not appropriate for a 15, 16, 17 or 18 year old to read, what is? What is safe for a teenager? Sweet Valley High? What is worse — a book the distorts reality — like Sweet Valley High or books of its ilk — or books that deal with reality? As a child, my mother always encouraged me (and Lee and our sisters Linda and Karen) to read whatever we wanted and I did. I’d read all the Spenser novels in print by the time I was 13. I read every Stephen King novel in print by the same time. I also read things like Seth Speaks and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and whatever odd novel was left sitting around the house (like, uh, Jonathan Livingston Seagull for instance) and I’d venture to say that I turned out okay. I don’t have children, but I know many of you do. So tell me: What is appropriate? And what is an inappropriate book for a teenager to read? (If you want some idea about what PABBIS [Parents Against Bad Books In Schools] believes the answer is to the latter, check this out…oh no, kids want to read 100 Questions and Answers About AIDS!)