Reading banned books
“When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” These days, if you can name the book this line belongs to, you’re one step ahead of half the kids in this country. If you couldn’t name it, I’ll cut you some slack and give you the answer. It’s To Kill a Mockingbird; go read it. This weekend, I had some time to catch up on my Newsweek and read an article called “Texting Makes U Stupid” (kudos on that title, Niaill Ferguson). As one would expect, it lamented the fall of the written word in today’s technology-based community, sprinkled of course with awkward jokes like, “Seconds before the earth is hit by a gigantic asteroid or engulfed by a super tsunami, millions of lithe young fingers will be typing the human race’s last inane words to itself: ‘C U Later. NOT :(.” Now, I don’t know about everyone else, but if the world is ending, I’m heading for cover, not texting. Patronizing (and a little condescending) as the piece was, I found myself agreeing with one thing: as a generation, we don’t read books anymore.
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, only half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 read a book outside school or work, down almost 10 percent from when our parents were growing up. Now, before I completely alienate the Colby community, I just want to make clear that I am in no way, shape or form condemning anyone for not having the time to shove aside homework and read a novel or historical epic. While the statistics around reading upset me, I understand why they are the way they are. As college students, we have things thrown at us from 20 different directions, and it’s hard to spare or find the time to sit down and read a book for fun, even if we really want to.
As the Echo pointed out in our last issue, Monday marks the start of one of the most important yet underrated celebrations in the country: Banned Books Week. All over America (probably at this very minute), elementary school students are being shuffled into their school libraries, told that some people don’t like Harry Potter, given a bookmark with a list of banned books and sent on their merry way. After thinking more about this approach, I’ve decided that it’s not the right one. While I am a self-proclaimed bookworm, horrified that someone would ever deprive a teenager of Catcher in the Rye or Huckleberry Finn, I think that giving someone a list and telling them to go read a banned book and “stick it to the man” might not be the way to go. Still, I have to ask myself: is it because people figure that younger kids are the only ones that care? Sure we read most of these books in high school, but how many of us actually had discussions in class about why these books are so controversial? The seven-year-old in the elementary school library sitting through a presentation this week could potentially be inspired and want to change something, but is it fair to expect him to if he’s just going to grow up and learn that reading for fun just won’t fit into his schedule?
There’s a way to fix this. While younger kids may be more receptive to the concept of not allowing someone to read a book, why keep older students from the action? Even though we’ve been called the laziest generation, we’re also the most vocal and have the potential to make the most change. So, why not start now?
If you’re reading Huck Finn in an American Lit class, ask the professor if there’s time to talk about why it’s banned. If your Government class is talking about Constitutional Law, try and figure out why censorship is such a problem in small libraries and towns. Look at how religion and culture fit into the mix. If you have time over a break, pick up Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse Five. Google what people have a problem with. Take advantage of all that technology that’s been made available to us. Take some of the pressure off of those elementary schoolers in their library; they’ll have enough to worry about in the next couple of years.
There’s a difference between not reading and not caring: we just have to show that it’s one and not the other. Ray Bradbury said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Wanna know which book he wrote? Go look it up. I dare you.