I’ve just read this story over on Death and Taxes about US parents who successfully banned the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie because of sex and because, apparently, it was insulting to their christian values.
The book tells the story of Junior who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school and it has come under fire for reasons ranging from offensive language to sexually explicit scenes. The school board in the Meridian district in Idaho last year voted to remove it from the high-school supplemental reading list, where it had been used since 2010..
The Guardian reported at the time that ‘one local said it subjects children to filthy words “we do not speak in our home”, reported the paper [banning the book], which said the book features “reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian”.’
In response to this some students raised 350 signatures on a campaign to lift the ban and a local bookstore took heart from this and started a crowd-funding campaign to get all 350 students a free copy of the book. They succeeded, yay! But then, on the evening at which they handed out the free books some parents called the police.
Death and Taxes report that ‘Rediscovered Books worked with a student involved in the petition, Brady Kissel, to distribute the books on World Book Night, an initiative to turn reluctant young readers onto reading with free, super-readable books. They distributed all but 20 books to kids who came in to claim them, but not before parents called the cops to shut down the operation. Police told local news channel KBOI they had been called by “someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.”
The book distribution went ahead and then when the publisher of the book, Hachette, heard what had happened and sent Rediscovered Books a whole load more free books to hand out to teenagers which is just so cool. This is a great response to such closed minded actions.
Firstly, World Book Night sounds like an incredible initiative! Secondly,
Fuck. That. Shit.
Calling the cops on a people for giving out a book you don’t like? Seriously? I genuinely believe that if you ban your child from reading a book you are your child’s enemy. I love reading and I always have. As a child I was considered an advanced reader and not once did my parents ever deny me a book. Perhaps that’s why I turned out to be the liberal, atheist, skeptic, humanist, feminist that I am today (in which case I can understand why conservative Christians would quake in their boots.) Seriously though, when we develop as children and then later during adolescence it’s really important that we are allowed to question the world through our own eyes and minds so that we can make sense of it and ourselves. Books can help us do this and denying a teenager a book because you believe you know what is right for them is patronising and wrong.
“There’s been a lot of talk in American school districts about choice and it centers almost exclusively on parents, without taking into account that young people themselves are individuals with rights to a quality education and to access to information.” – Acacia O’Connor, National Coalition Against Censorship
This whole episode shows just how powerful books are. Inside books live ideas and these ideas are so strong that they scare the closed minded who ban then and burn them. If the scariest thing you can imagine is a teenager thinking for themselves then you’ve got a problem. Why be content with being afraid of ideas?
I’m now off to buy a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie which I hope serves as a lesson to those who got it banned from the schools. You can try to ban books but you will fail because people will read them anyway because books are powerful.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R. R. Martin
Note: Following the publishing of this post I had a debate on Twitter about banning certain books, the transcript of which is here.