I can’t remember who said this, but the quote has always stuck with me. There’s something in me that loves to hear how we writers are so powerful and dangerous. None of us, of course, wishes to die or be persecuted like a Russian poet, but at a time when poets and writers have a hard time getting published and read, the idea that a writer was so popular and subversive that the government felt they needed to execute them is significant.
I was lucky when I was a kid to have a librarian who allowed us to check out whatever we wanted, and to have parents who believed that kids could handle grown-up ideas. My parents were willing to talk and debate with me about politics, etc., from an early age. So I’m not afraid to read anything (except horror stories late at night). IMHO, reading Marx doesn’t turn you into a communist anymore than reading the Koran turns you into a Muslim, but reading both will probably turn you into a more well -rounded individual who understands world politics a little better.
I remember when the Todd Haines film Poison was released, and Senator Jessie Helms spoke out against it as “filth” and was horrified that the NEA had given it a grant. Not to give too much away, but the film had a homosexual rape scene in it. I remember how excited everyone was in the Good Machine office, where I was doing my first internship in the film business, because Jessie Helms’ outrage was definitely going to be great for box office. We don’t hear about many of the small indie films released or books published, but the ones that are banned are the ones everyone wants to see and read (Salman Rushdie, anyone?).
Now that I have a small child, I do feel in some ways that I need to protect him a little from things that are too scary or too grown up for him to handle (most of which seem to be on television rather than in books). But I think parents can go too far. We do not live in pink candy-floss world, and if our kids are going to solve some of the gargantuan messes that people have created on the earth, they’re going to have to know something about death, fear and prejudice. Teenagers can get pregnant, go to war, drive a car, get addicted to drugs and go to jail. I think they can handle reading about another kid’s angst in Catcher in the Rye, and perhaps they will even find it helpful.
So—what are your favorite banned books?