Reading Rainbow

30 Sep

So controversial.

In all my frenzy to finish Under the Dome and write up my thoughts on the new Kindle Xtreme Fire, I almost forgot something very important: It’s Banned Books Week! My favorite time of year (after Christmas, Halloween, my birthday and those two weeks in May before it starts to get really hot), when we all think back on the American classics that were once hated on by whatever irrational moral authority existed in their time, only to later be considered some of the best examples of literature this world has to offer. Yay history!

Banned Books Week also gives us the chance to look over newer books that are still under attack from a veritable army of enraged PTA moms; books too sexual or violent or secular or science-y to be appropriate for the innocent young minds of children. Books like Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight, which encourages girls to become teenage mothers to the mutant vampire babies of sparkling undead men. Books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, which exposes teens to the glitzy fast-lane lifestyles of our country’s waitresses, telemarketers and other minimum-wage workers. Books like ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r, which I have never heard of but was clearly written by a monkey or other keyboard-challenged individual. This is what our tax dollars are paying for, the PTA horde asks, these smutty sex-charged, anti-God, anti-family tomes of sin?!

Thankfully (for sane people), we don’t really ban books anymore. They simply get “challenged,” by parents or other officials; those challenges are reviewed and, for the most part, ignored. But that doesn’t make it any less ludicrous that moral purists take issue with books that range from innocuous to outright awesome. I mean, Nickel and Dimed? Seriously!? I wish someone had forced me to read that in school; it would have ended my aspirations of being an underpaid restaurant hostess right then and there. Instead I went on dreaming that dream for years.

But seriously, in the last 10 years, there have been 4,660 book challenges at American libraries; 1,536 of them due to “sexually explicit” material; 1,231 due to “offensive language;” 977 due to material deemed “unsuited to age group;” 553 due to violence and 370 due to homosexuality. Another 121 books were challenged for being “anti-family” and 304 were challenged because of their religious viewpoints. The majority of challenges—nearly half—came from parents, which comes as little surprise. I still remember the birthday party where my mom called the moms of each of my friends to check if it was okay for us to watch Clueless. CLUELESS. The moral wrath of parents knows no bounds, and she was covering her bases.

It’s a fortunate thing, to have grown up with a mother who—despite Cluelessgate—never questioned my curriculum, my reading choices or really any of my media consumption (exception: In seventh grade, I was prohibited from seeing Cruel Intentions with my friends, an indignity for which I have still not forgiven her.) My mom always seemed to encourage (or at least accept) exposure through media; she didn’t blink when my aunt gave me creepy Clive Barker books, she conceded that some Alanis Morisettte songs were “okay”; she let me skip school to see Jurassic Park in the theater. All in all, she allowed me to learn then the way I learn now, by absorbing what’s around me, using my brain to think about it and deciding on my own what’s worth emulating (Cruel Intentions: not so much.)

I can only hope that I will be a similar type of mom, letting my kids expose themselves to what’s out there and then helping them process it after. In fact, I plan to facilitate such processing with a series of motherly notes taped to the back pages of books I deem questionable (if not controversial.) So yes, hypothetical tween, you can read all three of the laughably ridiculous Twilight books. Just don’t forget to read my words of wisdom at the end: “If you ever have sex with a sparkling 100-year-old vampire, I will ground you until you’re 30.”

That’s parenting.

2 Responses to “Reading Rainbow”

  1. EBC October 1, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Yes! My mama let me read any book I wanted, too. She was pretty tough on TV though. You Can’t Do That on TV was a particularly rocky patch for us.

  2. Pat Bindrim October 5, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    I guess all parenting is ‘learned’ since even your grandparents- much more conservative and conventional- pretty much left me to my own devices when it came to TV and reading. Ironically, if I were raising kids today, I’d be just as open about books- but maybe more restrictive on TV. I’m pretty sure the ’emotional porn’ of today’s reality shows is psychically damaging to kids under 15 : )

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