Thursday, February 05, 2004

Bed, Books, and Beyond

I'm very tired today, so I want to talk about books.


Don't worry, I haven't totally lost my mind: there really is a connection. I stayed up much later than I should have last night because I was reading, and now I'm paying the price.

I do this often. There are very few things I like better than crawling into bed with a snack (usually popcorn) and a book, to read a little bit before turning in for the night. The problem with this is that I have no self control once I start reading. I just lay there and keep turning pages long into the night, constantly telling myself "okay, at the end of this chapter, that's it, I've gotta get some sleep." That doesn't work too well.

If you think about it, though, this really isn't a big deal at all. Being a little tired the next day is a small price to pay. As far as addictions go, this is one of the good ones. Give me a fix of story anytime--anyone want to argue that it's bad for you? I kick ass at Jeopardy, and it's almost totally because I read so much. You'd be amazed at the "useless" trivia you can pick up by reading fiction. Also, I'd be willing to lay down large sums of money (if I had any) that the reason I'm such a good writer (technically, at least--as far as the content is concerned, you can be the judge) is because I've always loved to read. Being exposed to the written word so much had to rub off.

The book I was reading last night was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Yeah, I'm 26 and reading kids' books. Laugh if you want, but the Potter books are outstanding. J.K. Rowling is a great storyteller. Sure, these books may be intended for kids, but I think older readers will get even more out of them, because they'll notice things that younger readers will miss.

Anyway, the whole topic of the Harry Potter books serves as a nice bridge into a related topic: book banning.

I was reading in the Toledo Blade this morning a story about a local school district in which a parent was challenging The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison being taught in an advanced English class. The parent's objection dealt with some descriptions of "explicit sex."

Keep in mind, this book is being taught to a group of "advanced" high school seniors. For me, high school wasn't all that long ago (my ten-year reunion should be coming up next year), and I remember it fairly well. I had some fairly clear ideas about "explicit sex," and reading some descriptions in a book would not have fazed me in the slightest. I know that probably isn't true for every high school student, but it was for me, and I would imagine so for most of the people I knew at the time.

Also, this is a class for "advanced" students. Naturally, the definition of "advanced" is going to vary from place to place, but I would like to think it would mean that the students participating in such a class are intelligent and mature enough to be able to read something like that and understand its context in the story. In a book such as this, any sex is not going to be gratuitous sex for its own sake. It serves a purpose.

I think it's a good thing for kids to read stuff like this. Why? Because the very fact that it's being challenged suggests to me that it's something that is outside of the world view typical to their part of the world. I think it's always good to look at things from outside your own perspective, to get different angles and ideas about life in general. Shutting yourself off from things you don't agree with invites stagnation.

I would imagine that the kids in a high school advanced English course are probably making plans to go to college, for the most part. Once they get to college, they will be in a totally new environment, with people of many different backgrounds, and I hardly think that the worst thing for them will be to have read about "explicit sex." Will that in itself make a difference in how they adapt to college? Of course not. It will, however, be part of their education in opening their minds, in experiencing things they wouldn't have if they were forced to stay the course and never see/hear/read anything that was considered mildly objectionable in their hometown.

How Harry Potter ties into all of this, of course, is that Rowling's series of kids' books is on the list of most frequently banned/challenged books. As much good as these books are doing by getting kids interested in reading, there is a faction out there which would like nothing more than to see these books removed from libraries. Trust me, I've tried all the spells in these books, and they don't work--no witchcraft involved. Apparently I'm just not a wizard.

In keeping with all of this, I'd just like to encourage everyone to pick up a book and read. I don't care what you read, just read something. If you don't know what to pick, well, why not read a banned book? Get a look at something that someone thought was too dangerous for you to see.

The Forbidden Library: Banned and Challenged Books
‘Explicit’ book faces scrutiny

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