Friday, May 02, 2014

(Don't) Read Banned Books!

When I was four, my dad made me get my finger bitten by a rat.

My dad has been a psychology professor at Ball State University for 45 years. Early in his career, he worked with lab rats, performing experiments designed to make psychologists giggle with delight whenever their hypotheses were confirmed.

One day, my dad wanted to show me where he worked and what he did. When we got to the lab, he said the one thing that would make me stick my finger in a rat cage.

He said, "Don't stick your finger in the rat cage."

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hospital, where I got a tetanus shot and a bandage. My dad also learned a valuable lesson in the Psychology of Erik: Erik will not do what he is told, he will do what he is told not to.

When I was a high school sophomore, this was a valuable strategy to get me to read certain books, like Slaughterhouse-Five or Catch-22.

One day, I was walking past the college bookstore, and saw a poster announcing Banned Books Week. It showed several books that had been banned for being obscene, immoral, using foul language, or promoting ideas that went against the values of the local community.

The next day, I checked out three of the books from the library.

At 15, these were not books I would have ever picked out for myself. I preferred science fiction, fantasy, and comic books. But tell me I'm not allowed to read certain books and you galvanize me into action. I become a silent protestor, a literary dissident, a foot soldier in the battle against the embargo of erudition.

My new reading taught me to like all kinds of authors and their strange ideas. I became a serious Kurt Vonnegut fan, especially of Breakfast Of Champions.

(Readers of BOC will appreciate knowing I have a t-shirt with. . . that symbol and a red "No" circle on it. For those of you who don't know what that means, you'll have to read the book. Or, you're not allowed to read it. Whichever motivates you.)

Catch-22, which was banned in several states in the 1970s, became one of my all-time favorites; I still have the copy my uncle loaned me in 1987.

Even the Bible has been banned or challenged throughout the world, but it was already so full of "thou shalt nots" that I worried what I might do if I read it. I've managed to read it since then without committing any of the more egregious sins. I haven't murdered, fornicated, or stolen, so I have that going for me.

In 2014, we live in an age when we're supposed to embrace new ideas and encourage independent thought, but there are still people who think it's acceptable to ban books they deem "unacceptable" from their community.

A recent article in Canada's National Post newspaper says last year the Toronto Public Library received a request to ban Dr. Seuss' book, Hop On Pop, on the grounds that it "encourages children to use violence against their fathers." The complaint demanded the library remove the book, issue an apology to the city, and pay for damages resulting from the book.

Violence? It's Hop On Pop, not Let's Bludgeon Dad.

The library rightly rejected the request — this part made me sad — after "careful consideration."

Why would you carefully consider a request like that? If it had been me, I would have casually glanced at the request, hollered "F--- NO!" wadded it up and thrown it behind me without looking to see if anyone was back there. That's how uncarefully I would have considered it.

The library's Materials Review Committee released a report that specifically said, "the children are actually told not to hop on Pop." Which is what the weenie complainer would have known if they had just turned the page.

I agree there are some books that should not be read by young children. They don't have the emotional maturity to handle the issues and language in those books. They can make the decisions to read though-provoking literature when they're older and can think for themselves.

But it's a close-minded, meddling society that inoculates itself against new ideas and new ways of thinking by banning books, and they need to be stopped. For my fellow literary dissidents, if you want to have a positive influence on your kids, teach them to be well-read rebels, to think for themselves, and to never let anyone tell them how they should live their own lives.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to read Hop On Pop to my teenagers.

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