Banned Books: Don’t Read This!
Posted on 28 September 2010 by Karen Risch
Okay, read this, but please be sneaky about it. Oh, what the hell. Go ahead and read it all out in the open. It’s pretty short—and it’s not sexually explicit, offensive, or inappropriate to the age of my intended audience. Namely, you.
Although to ensure lots of people read this, I should make it raunchy, in your face, and out of line—and then get some group to make a big stink about it.
I’m not saying anything new by observing that whenever people are told they “shouldn’t” read something, it becomes the very thing they want to read. It’s true for me: tell me a book is boring or badly written, and it might give me pause; tell me it’s shocking or strange or hard to get through because the ideas are so foreign or it’s too anything, and I’m the first one to bust out my flashlight to read under the covers. Figuratively, of course. Now that I’m a woman of a certain age, I don’t have to hide my books, though sometimes it’s prudent to wait till after my five-year-old son goes to bed.
“You can’t read that.”
“Oh, Yes I Can!”
In honor of Banned Books Week, held every year the last week of September, I’m reflecting on the only book I remember my parents saying was off limits in our house, Yes I Can: The Story of Sammy Davis, Jr. Perhaps it goes without saying that I read this autobiography, published the year I was born, surreptitiously when I was in sixth grade (rebel!) and then told Mom and Dad about it, proud of my fait accompli.
To their credit, their only response was, “Do you have any questions? Anything you’d like to talk about?”
I didn’t. Although I do have one question now: Why that book? Of all the stuff in our home library, why was that one forbidden fruit? I could make some guesses: there was the scene where he lost his eye (impaled on a pointy decoration in the center of his steering wheel—awful), some bits about his sex life (I don’t even remember), and drinking, and converting to Judaism. And then the guy was black, of course, and he married a white woman at a time when that was not at all common. But these weren’t the kinds of things to make my folks blanch, normally.
I’ll never know why. But it makes a point: censorship is all about the censors, has next to nothing to do with the book or the reader.
What has been your experience with censorship? Has anyone ever told you not to read something? Or told you not to write something? How did you respond?