Every year-- I swear, every year-- we get to the end of Banned Books Week before I finally look around and ask, "Oh, is it Banned Books Week again?"
Banned Books Week came up at work yesterday, though, because it was the topic on NPR, and a coworker started talking about his kids reading The Kite Runner in middle school. My mouth literally dropped open, because The Kite Runner is an incredibly painful book that I could not have handled in middle school. We went on to talk about The Outsiders, a book I was assigned in middle school, and how I reacted so badly to it. Admittedly, I was a weird kid, but at least in those days, we weren't given the tools in school to handle the emotions that a book brought on, and The Outsiders sent me into a spiral of depression and fear that lasted for weeks.
My reaction to middle school reading, however, is less "Let's get these hard books out of schools" and more "Dang, I'd really like to understand the criteria for the required reading better." Like basically everyone else who lives in a world of books, I'm against banning them. I'm less against making age-appropriate decisions for particular segments of our society--I doubt that War and Peace has a place in a primary school library, for example--but I'm not all that wild about how these debates often play out in the public sphere, particularly when it comes to the later years of high school. I'm all for parents stepping in for their young kids and saying they aren't ready for a particular book (again, without conflating "what's best for my kid" with "this is what's best for every kid"), but if your kid who's that close to college isn't yet capable of making good decisions for what she is reading or is unable to sort through the thoughts and emotions brought on by books, then you have a far more serious problem on your hands.
Just for my own entertainment, I dug up this article about parents who succeeded in getting a book pulled from a 10th-grade curriculum, then called the cops when some in the town organized to hand out free copies of the book to the kids who wanted to read it. My favourite bit? "Police arrived after getting a call from 'someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent's permission'." I laughed hysterically the first time I read that, and I still laugh every time. If I'd waited for my parents' permission, I never would have read anything when I was a kid.
Incidentally, earlier this week I saw a tweet (which I now can't find, so I'm paraphrasing from memory) that said that self-censoring what one reads is even worse than a school or town banning a book. It's hard to gauge nuance from a 140-character tweet, but I think the spirit of what was being said was that people need to voluntarily open themselves up to new ideas and not shut them out just because they don't appeal at the moment. I agree with that idea, but am not sure that there's a lot that can be done about it, apart from my relentless "You need to read this book!" that I regularly subject my friends to. Forcing someone to read a book is just as damaging as denying access to it, IMO. (Despite my own bad experiences, I do make an exception for required reading at school. You have to start somewhere.)
Looking for something to read? Check out this year's Frequently Challenged Books list on the Banned Books website, or for a somewhat more personal recommendation, here's my favourites shelf on Goodreads (you can also go to my profile & see all my reviews, if you're really looking to read all the stuff that I like). Grab your library card and have a good time.