As Isabel Allende‘s The House of the Spirits haunted book banners in North Carolina and drew the fire of Fox News, I waited for Jon Stewart’s Daily Show writers to come up with their usual slap down of Fox. I mean, here was a media organization that routinely whines about the infringement of free speech rights of conservatives being all too willing to take out its own infringement sledgehammer. Jon usually jumps on that kind of hypocrisy as fast as he pulls out his George Bush impression.
Allende’s story of four generations of a family dealing with social revolution in Chile was awarded the Best Novel of the Year in Chile in 1982, and is recognized by educational organizations such as the International Baccalaureate as a world literature study book. The parent who challenged the book objected to references to abortion and prostitution. After consideration, the Watauga County Board of Education did the right thing; they voted 3-2 to keep The House of the Spirits in the English Honors 10th grade curriculum.
About 500 books are challenged each year in the United States, according to the American Library Association. And people who pooh-pooh all this fuss about censorship stress that few of those actually result in bans. Still, they turn communities upside down. Books are removed from shelves while the challenge is being addressed, which means no one has access to the book. (That’s like being considered guilty until proven not.)
So I suggest instead of banning books, let’s ban:
- Companies that pour poisons into the air we breathe. Don’t their executives breathe it, too?
- Absentee parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents. Parents who never should have been parents to begin with.
- Bullies that stalk the playgrounds—real ones and virtual ones.
- Poverty that means teachers have to load up kids’ backpacks with food on Friday afternoons because they know the kids won’t get a decent meal until they get back to school on Monday.
- War and all the “cides”—genocide, homicide, infanticide.
But, wait, all of these people will say I am infringing on their rights now.
That’s why we need books: to help us write smarter laws (because all of this stuff is or should be illegal) and to help us come up with more creative ways to make the world a better place.
From Book of Mercy, a funny novel about a book club that does its own banning:
As she read the description of a book, she roamed the room, pulling books from the pile and tossing them at the feet of the members. Members scooted away as waves of “filth” edged closer and closer to their well-shod toes.
“The Stupids Step Out,” Irene said. “Describes families in a derogatory manner and might encourage children to disobey their parents.”
Arabella huffed in disgust. “That’s an absurd name for a family, fictional or otherwise. What if Tolstoy had called her Anna Idiot instead of Anna Karenina?”