All over the blogosphere and in libraries and literary circles this week, writers and readers are celebrating Banned Book Week. Now, my parents were pretty liberal about what we read when I was growing up-- they were just glad we were reading. And I learned more accurate information from books about life, sex, and relationships than I ever learned at junior high slumber parties or overheard in the locker room. No one ever told me not to read Flowers in the Attic, or The World According to Garp, or A Clockwork Orange. Hell, I'd seen the movie versions by then, all of which struck me after the fact as far more graphic than the books. Thanks, Stanley Kubric. You're a right merzky droog. Real horrorshow.
I've read quite a number of banned books. And here I am before you, as well adjusted as any young writer. I don't have sex with my siblings, or beat up old or homeless people, and I've never given someone oral sex in a car without first making sure we weren't going to be rear ended. ;) See, you can learn a lot from banned books.
I even had to read more than my fair share of banned books in juinor high and high school, since my teachers were pretty liberal, as well. Lucky me. Maybe I'm just fickle that way, but being told that Of Mice and Men had been banned in other schools made me want to read it that much more. It didn't necessarily make me enjoy or appreciate the subtle symbolism of Steinbeck, but it exposed me to some great writers I probably wouldn't have bothered with on my own. And I'd rather be forced to suffer through A Catcher in the Rye fifty times than be told I can't read it.
Even so, I could usually spot the reasons these books had been banned. But I didn't exactly understand it (well, not until I read Little Black Sambo, or Tintin in the Congo). To me, Harper Lee's use of incest and the N-word in To Kill a Mockingbird contributed to the realism, and the sympathy the reader feels for the characters, not to mention motivation... And this was before I was thinking like a writer.
I know how lucky I was to have been blessed with such a liberal education and upbringing, which has had a profound effect on me as a writer. Not only where craft is concerned, but about having the courage to stick to my convictions-- even if I know my writing might be challenged. This has been one of the most emotionally difficult parts of being a writer: including my soul, my core beliefs in my work and really meaning it. Many of my decisions as a writer derive from what I learned from banned books, who have been my good friends over the years.
In the Night Kitchen (my first banned book!) Huck Finn Gulliver's Travels The Lorax A Wrinkle in Time Forever, Deenie A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules The Handmaid's Tale The Color Purple The Awakening Go Ask Alice
More recently banned books I've read that I'd recommend include:
I was a Teenage Fairy Heather Has Two Mommies
And on my must read list:
The Bermudez Triangle Looking for Alaska Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging The Perks of Being a Wallflower Speak
When did you first understand the concept of banned books? Have any favorites?
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ~George Orwell
I'm a YA writer who delves into urban fantasy, paranormal and romance, and who loves reading good books almost as much as writing them.
When not writing—or working—I enjoy daydreaming, drinking tea, and walking in cemeteries. I used to spend the rest of my time checking my inbox for manuscript requests, but am now proudly represented by Rosemary Stimola, of Stimola Literary Studio.