Many years ago, I happened to be on vacation in Long Beach, Washington during Banned Book Week and an indie bookstore was giving out buttons that said, “I read banned books.” I’ve had my button on my backpack ever since.
When I lived in the American South, the button would often raise eyebrows and start discussions. Frankly, I was always a little careful because while I believe that Harry Potter is not going to corrupt a Christian child, plenty of people do believe that, and I didn’t want to get in an argument in a public place.
What I find both terrifying and also redeeming about book banning is no matter how diligent the banners are, they’re missing loads of books. You only hear about the ones that get media attention – the Judy Blume books, or more recently Ellen Hopkins’ books, but the good news is that right under the book banners’ turned up noses, kids are reading a great many novels which would make them lose their lunch in fury.
First of all, there’s the sheer number of books being published. No one can read all of them, so while everyone’s burning broomsticks and marching in front of the library, kids are quietly checking out books no one’s even noticed that also cover witchcraft, homosexuality, sexual relations, swearing, and books which question religion. And it’s not only happening in the big city libraries. In fact, you might be surprised to hear that sometimes small, rural libraries have a better selection of new (and potentially controversial) books than their big city counterparts.
How can this be? Many small libraries subscribe to what is referred to as a book service. They don’t have the staff, or the money to buy books, so instead they lease them. Every three months or so, they receive a new batch of the latest and greatest recently released books, and they send back the ones they’ve had for a while. It keeps their small stock fresh and up to date and the books rotate through smaller library systems, giving them books which are in demand, but they’d never be able to purchase.
There is a down side to this service, the most obvious one being that the service itself is choosing which books to include in its rotations, and that isn’t necessarily good for authors, publishers or readers, but that’s another post. The up side is that these small rural libraries are getting all kinds of exciting books that perhaps a more conservative librarian who had time to read the actual books before choosing them would never bring into the library. Also, because the books come and go rather quickly, they appear to be read by kids but get missed by the banners.
So while I do believe it’s important for us all to wear our “I read banned book” buttons proudly, imperative we speak up and say what we think in a non-confrontational manner, and to continue to read and buy banned books if they interest us, I also believe all is not lost. There is hope simply in the sheer number of books publishing continues to provide for their readers, and the long tradition of teens everywhere reading under the covers with a flashlight.