Ask a Book Critic: Should We Ban Books We Find Offensive?

Most of the time when a book is challenged, or outright banned, it’s because a certain demographic feels uncomfortable with it. If that certain demographic makes enough noise about their displeasure, then they could successfully get that book banned. Yet, seeking to make a book unavailable to everyone around you, is the equivalent of attempting to force everyone to have the same beliefs. Therefore banning books is always, ultimately, about individuals who believe that they have the right to decide how we think. And it’s especially about individuals who believe they are protecting us by attempting to bar us from reading certain books. This is where the danger, and power, in book banning lies; in someone’s ability to think their opinion is the only one that matters, and, thereby, the only one that should be allowed.
Books serve as gateways to other worlds and while some books challenge the perception of everything around us, still others inspire entire generations. This is why banning books, especially for younger readers, is essentially blocking off a whole world of thought.
You have to understand that it isn't dangerous for children to be able to confront unpleasant ideas, particularly when the setting is in a school or a library. I understand the difficulty in deciding what is and what is not appropriate for children. After all, no one should be advocating for Lolita to be taught to kindergarteners. But students who aren’t allowed to read certain books – especially those with heavier themes – are missing out on the life lessons that those books touch upon, making them further unprepared for the real world.
I also think that we sell kids short in terms of what they already know and what we think they can handle. Books are frequently challenged for things like profanity, drugs and alcohol, or sexual content, but if the mere presence of such things is enough to destroy their character, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands.
Part of being a successful author is getting people to have serious discussions about controversial topics. And it’s especially important for people, of all ages, to have those types of conversations. To deprive anyone of this opportunity is harmful and will ultimately lead to ignorance. It’s important to be aware of all the bad shit in the world because it’s always going to be there. Future adults then don’t just have a right to this knowledge, their parents and educators have an obligation to give it to them. Who are we to deny them this?
I think a lot of us want what’s best for children. But being able to decide for oneself the quality of someone else’s thoughts, and being able to use those skills to form your own opinions, is a skill best learned by reading. The ability to think critically is important, and books are the tools with which we cultivate that ability. We can’t shield our children from racism or sexism, but we can teach them how to understand these issues more comprehensively.
Most people of course can think of a book (or several) they wish they could in fact ban. I personally believe that anything written by Ayn Rand (yes, I’m shitting on her again. She deserves it) should be considered a literary travesty, and that no reader should ever be subjected to any of Rand’s impossible tirades. But that’s something you have to decide for yourself, no matter how painful that process might be. Moreover, by banning books we aren’t protecting anyone from anything, we are only oppressing them. The world can be a cruel, unforgiving place; banning books is not the answer to that.


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