This week at the Debutante Ball, our theme is Banned Books Week, which takes place between September 27 and October 4.
Most of what I read as a child was pretty tame—just about every book was something that my parents could have picked up, started reading, and not had a problem with (which is good, because that tended to happen in my house—for instance, the week we all randomly picked up and read my 11-year-old sister’s book Camp Zombie and confessed, in a festival of family wimpiness, that we all found it terrifying).
I never bothered to sneak to my friend’s house and look over Madonna’s controversial book, Sex. I never perused any steamy romances at the paperback rack at the library. When I did branch out, it was to the not-so-exotic realm of John Grisham or Michael Crichton—even Stephen King was too scary for me.
So when I wrote my book, I wrote what I knew, in this sense. Most parents could pick up Bad Girls Don’t Die and check out any of the pages without becoming alarmed at what their kids were reading.
And I did it on purpose. Call me a prude, but when I’m a parent, there are going to be things I don’t want my kids exposed to. You can bet if I see an unfamiliar book on the coffee table, I’ll scoop it up and read a few paragraphs to get an idea of what exactly is being fed into my little angels’ minds.
So why should I care about Banned Books Week?
(Ha! Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I ended my post right there?)
The reason is that I believe, as my parents believed, that just because something isn’t right for me doesn’t mean it isn’t right for somebody. And I believed, even as a teen, that my behavior should be governed by my own self-control, not from a blanket effort to remove “bad” influences from my reach. Like every teen in the history of the universe, I had plenty of naughty stuff in my reach—but I was raised not to reach for it.
My book does actually have a few things going on that might raise a couple of eyebrows. It deals with ghosts and the supernatural, which many people out there might not be okay with (people like, er, me, circa 1990). It has a few fight scenes, which some people might dislike, but I feel are important to the story line (hey, some things are worth fighting for).
Do I expect every parent in America to pick up my book and be totally okay with it? No. I happen to think the vast majority won’t find any cause for complaint. But for the few that do, I’d like to trade my understanding and acceptance of their viewpoint for their understanding and acceptance of mine.
If they don’t want the book in their house, they’re completely welcome to pluck it from the innocent fingers of their children and do with it what they choose. But I ask that they confine their plucking to the fingers of their own progeny and allow other parents to exercise their own discretion.
I really admire the philosophy of The Center for Media Literacy, which I first learned about reading Hell Burns, the media journal of Sister Helena Burns (and how’s that for a ban-worthy blog title?). The idea is that you can’t get your kids away from the media, so give them the tools to be aware of and interpret what they’re being exposed to. Instead of banning a book, discuss it. Even *gasp!* read it.
Far be it from me to advise other people on how to raise their kids. But I can’t recall a single acquaintance whose teenaged reading habits—even the steamier variety—proved problematic as the teen in question entered adulthood.
Besides, I was too wimpy to read Stephen King, and I grew up to write spooky supernatural books. So who knows—those kids reading the spicy bodice-rippers will probably grow up to write thousand-page ornithology textbooks.