Friday, October 2, 2015

Banned Books Week: The Awkward Questions

"But who is wurs shod, than the shoemakers wyfe, With shops full of newe shapen shoes all hir lyfe?"
[1546 J. Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs i. xi. E1V]"

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Before I turned thirteen, I thought that book censorship happened to other kids in other places, and that it wouldn't be tolerated in this day and age-- the early 2000s. Harry Potter book burnings seemed absurd, to think that witchcraft in this day and age posed a threat, not to mention anonymous callers harassing Judy Blume for writing a middle grade book about the existence of God and how a preteen could choose a religion.

My family is highly educated, and I inherited my brother's taste in books, from Harry Potter to Artemis Fowl to Ender's Game.He in fact had to push books on me because as a kid I didn't realize that books could be fun. I was a reluctant reader, until I discovered the joy that Redwall and Harry Potter brought, and more so when I learned that you could take multiple computer tests on the books that you read in school. It seemed all fun when I won an award for reading the most books in the school, and for discovering the power of Bruce Coville when it came to unicorns and dragons.

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Then I hit middle school, and discovered Harry Potter fanfiction without ratings, Neil Gaiman through Sandman trade paperbacks, and adult renditions of fairy tales. The latter anthologies that made me do double takes at the violence, and some interpretations of the fairy tales that I read with bright illustrations. Some of the phrases that evaded me made me doubt that such acts existed, that it could not possibly be what I was asking.

I asked my sister an awkward question while we were uniform shopping. She explained to me the answer, with some patience, and told me to not ask so loudly. I expressed some disgust when she told me the definition of the term, and later on she and my brother started to screen the books I read, not allowing me to read volume 6 of Sandman due to the graphic violence portrayed during the French Revolution. My mother freaked when I mentioned some ridiculous notions about Wonder Woman that psychologist Frederick Wertham had made about a female superhero that has a lot of female sidekicks, and confiscated my Internet privileges. This confiscation felt very insulting and violated the education that I had learned about censorship.

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A painful transition over several years followed, where I started to believe that certain books can spark dangerous and unhealthy ideas, and that dark fiction inspired terrible thoughts to high school students under a lot of stress. I stopped reading fanfiction because at the time downloaded a lot of viruses to the family desktop I was using, and the actual Harry Potter books coming out nullified my need for more wizard lore. In time, I asked about more mundane things like how to survive high school and broken friendships. My reading diverged into more traditional fantasy and science fiction, from Isaac Asimov to Scott Westerfeld, and to this day I find it hard to read traditional romance novels or gore fests, unless Shakespeare or Stephen King write the gore or Meg Cabot writes the romance.

As an adult, I now understand the position in which I put my sister. Having to answer a young teenager's awkward questions in a public place or in a conservative household makes for an unpleasant experience. Often censored books make people ask questions, and too many questions makes one reluctant to confront them, especially when the answer seems to absurd to be believed. As a kid I had no filter, so I was curious about everything.

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With that said, questioning the world and its fictional representations allows our minds to grow. Harry Potter's detractors in the 1990s claim that the book promotes witchcraft, completely missing the point that despite the wizards and witches having magic to solve the energy crisis and problems of our world, and they cannot overcome the human errors of prejudice and tolerance for cruelty. Parent Melanie MacDonald calling a young adult novel "smut" for addressing the serious issues of bullying among girls shows a lack of perception that such issues occur, often under an unwilling public's nose.

Education starts in the home, and I imagine biases and handling awkwardness comes into play when trying to nurture a child's mind. While my family screened the books I read, they didn't impose that screening on other children or parents, or by complaining to libraries. They knew their comfort zone, and mine, but comfort zones vary with each family. For that I am grateful, and I am grateful for having the ability to question my world, and its absurdities.

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