By Carole McWilliams
This week, locally and around the country, bookstores and libraries have been observing Banned Books Week, reminding us that there are always folks who think they should control what other people read.
It's interesting that this follows soon after the week that celebrates the U.S. Constitution.
The focus of this year's Banned Books Week is books for young adults, middle and high school age, since the most frequent challenges are to books in this category. They have too much sexual content, or they offend someone's religious sensibilities. That apparently includes portraying LGBT characters as regular human beings.
Back when I was in high school, they had a list of books that you could choose from to do book reports on. My assessment was that most of these books were boring, meaning they were "classics."
One book on the list was "Candide" by Voltaire. I was raised very nominally Catholic, and the Catholic Church banned this book for mocking religion and criticizing religious intolerance. So the teacher said I couldn't read it.
That, of course, meant that as a red-blooded American, I had to read it. If it hadn't been banned, I wouldn't have read it.
One of the books that has been most frequently challenged is Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," a classic that I didn't find boring. I think I was a college freshman when I read it. It uses the interesting device of telling the story of Southern "justice" for black people through the eyes of a six-year-old white girl who hasn't yet been indoctrinated into the rightness of Jim Crow.
Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" also are frequently challenged. They also are classics that aren't boring. I would point out here a quote attributed to Twain: "When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
Much more recent classics that are regularly challenged are the Harry Potter books. As with "Candide," as soon as I found out that religious conservatives wanted to ban this, I had to go out and buy and read the first book (after giving it to my son), then the second, and so on. I've also seen and enjoyed all the movies.
Would anyone have read Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" if Muslim clerics hadn't condemned and tried to suppress it?
When I finally write a book, I hope someone tries to ban it.