By some miracle, I remembered Banned Books Week on time this year. I'm so chuffed with myself. (Some of this is drawn from a previous banned books post, in case it sounds familiar.)
As with most things, my approach to Banned Books Week feels simple but turns out to be more complicated. The easy part is: I'm against banning books. We live in a free society, and one person's offence/dislike of a book should not govern my access to it.
And then it gets complicated, like the petition to have books removed from Amazon because they read more like rape manuals. There's no part of me that wants those books in the wild, which tests my commitment to a ban-free world. (Although a petition by customers asking a company to remove something is absolutely the right way for a book to be challenged, IMO.) Then there's the question of what books belong in what school libraries, since age-appropriateness is frequently used to challenge a book. Some things are obvious: a primary school library can probably skip shelving The Grapes of Wrath or Beloved and leave them to the higher grades. What's less obvious is when it's appropriate for those books to be available, possibly over the objections of parents, and that's when fights tend to break out.
For what it's worth, I read whatever I wanted to read for my entire childhood, and I think my parents' hands-off approach when I was young and read in a whole bunch of genres was incredibly helpful in letting me shape my own taste and preferences, as well as developing a sense of when I wasn't ready for a particular book. It never occurred to me as a kid that I didn't have blanket permission to read anything I wanted. Is this the right approach for every kid? Of course not--hardly anything is the right approach for all people all the time, but I do hope that most of my friends are embracing the value of saying yes more than they say no when it comes to reading. (BTW, my book recommendations to friends for their kids almost always come with "she should only read this if she's ready for ____" or "you should be prepared to discuss ____".)
And to be quite blunt--if your kids are within a couple years of college age and you still don't trust them to choose their own reading material, you have bigger problems on your hands than whether or not that book has profanity in it. If you don't want to see it or don't want to risk younger kids getting their hands on something, saying "Please don't bring that book into the house," is completely different from "You're not allowed to read that." What's even better? Start the conversation very early on about how what you take in affects who you are, and maybe some things you'd like your kids to consider when choosing what to read.
Bottom line: Banning books outright has no place in a free society. Whatever someone's reasons may be for not reading a book, that person has no right to force that view upon others. And my West Wing quote-o-matic has the perfect selection for this occasion:
This is exactly the sort of thing that should be celebrated by First Amendment advocates! ... Why aren't you standing up saying, 'See? It works. You don't need to ban movies like Prince of New York! You just have to choose not to watch them.'
Sam Seaborn has this one absolutely right. You don't want to read a book? Fine. Put it down and move on. You don't want me to read that book? How about instead of a harangue about how bad it is, you just recommend a book that you really enjoy and let me make up my own mind?
Banning books is unnecessary, closed-minded, and potentially damaging to free speech. We already have the right ingredients for looking after ourselves: Free society. Responsible citizens. Discerning minds. We can do this.