It’s Banned Books Week, a week organized by the ALA to encourage awareness of our rights as readers and writers, to be free to read and write what we want to read and write. This week always reminds me of my younger sister Erika, a long-time banned book reader.
As a kid, Erika was never the big reader that I was. She never got into the library as I did, and only followed me to the Bookmobile because she was my buddy and wanted to do what I did. I hid in my bedroom, reading my paperbacks; she was social and played outside.
This changed in high school. Apparently, she was lucky enough to get an English teacher who introduced her to the Banned Books List. But, before I go on, let me put Erika’s new-found reading habits into context.
Sometime around 13, my sister found attitude. She started hanging out with the skater boys, rocking out to Green Day (’90s Green Day, before the eyeliner to hide all of the wrinkles, when they pretty much just stuck to songs about smoking pot), apparently smoking my mom’s cigarettes, and mouthing off to my parents. It wasn’t easy for her to adopt this attitude because my parents were always very close to us and very involved in our lives, so she really had nothing to rebel against. We had a good life. So, we teased her a bit when she got angsty, calling her “Rebel without a Cause”, or even “Rebel without a Clue”. It must have been tough to slam doors effectively against a trio who found her moods amusing.
Then she found the banned books. Finally, she had a cause! She would read, and only the books that were on that list!
Soon, it was her nose in the book behind the closed bedroom door. When I’d go out with my friends on a Friday night, she’d wave goodbye, never taking her eyes off of Holden Caulfield’s journey through the big city. By 18, she had read more classics than I had- Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And she kept reading, long after her rebellious phase wore off.
In college, I studied literature and would call her to talk about the books I was reading for class. I’d be so excited at a newly discovered classic, and she would be surprised, often commenting “You haven’t read that already?” She was the first (and maybe only) person I knew who chose to read literature simply for herself. She didn’t major in English. She went to school to be an elementary school teacher. Yet, even now, she prefers to spend her reading time with Whitman, Vonnegut, Graham Greene, and Steinbeck. I got her into Austen, who she also enjoys, but usually she defers to the Banned Book List. She has always said, “I figure if it’s on this list, it’s got to be good!”
This is one reason I appreciate the Banned Books list. Not only does it make people aware of the dangers of censorship (especially if they choose to read Fahrenheit 451 off the list)- it can also provide motivation for reluctant readers to pick up a book. I fully plan to introduce my 7th grade students to the Banned Books list this week- if anything to get those too cool kids to realize that reading can be cool.