This is Banned Book Week, where once again we stop to think about our first amendment rights and think about the books that are kicked out of our libraries and schools.
The playwright Anton Chekov has this great rule for writing a play. To summarize it, if a gun appears in the first act, it has to go off by the last act.
What Chekov is tapping into is that a gun is threatening, a gun can kill. An audience remembers it is there, and each and every playgoer expects that sooner or later, for better or worse it will be fired. I remember once I saw a production of “Hamlet” by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and they showed Hamlet with a gun in the first act. He carried it in his coat wherever he went on that stage, his concealed weapon, and we always knew it was there, expecting it sooner or later to cause destruction. Because a gun will always be fired, fictional or real, and there are always consequences for one being around.
The funny thing is, there are pockets in our country where people feel more at ease with guns than books.
In 2012, the most banned book in our country was a series of children’s books called “Captain Underpants” by Dav Pilkey. Let’s be honest, “Captain Underpants” is not Huckleberry Finn. They can be considered offensive, with their misspelled words and lack of respect for authority. They are honestly , not at the top of the reading list for my kids, but I wouldn’t tell someone else’s child they can’t enjoy them. Yet, that is what someone attempts to do each time this book is taken off shelves.
The funny thing about Banned Book Week is that these attempts at removing a book always seem to say something more about the people trying to ban the book then the actual book itself. Consider, for example, the many attempts to ban the Harry Potter books. Do you know the main reason the books by J.K. Rowling get banned? It is because someone, somewhere, is worried that it will drive children to magic.
No, I don’t mean heading off to Vegas to put on a jumpsuit and make white tigers disappear. I mean, actual magic. Whoa.
Then there are the books banned for language, sexuality, conflicting religious beliefs. Yet, for all their differences, each and every reason given comes down to one fact.
All of the books are banned or attempted to be banned because of fear. Someone is afraid that in the wrong hands the book will be fired, and just like a gun nothing will be the same after that trigger is pulled. Not a physical injury, but a mental and emotional one that won’t go away. Their child, or another’s child, will be permanently changed.
So here’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. The thing that many people seem to forget is not our first amendment but what it is like to be a kid. See, if you take something away, make it forbidden, you always, always, always, make it more interesting. And because of that, the attempt to ban books always fails in the long run. And really, everyone still has a little a kid in them no matter how old.
The fact is I know I can make more of a difference with my children by explaining to them the reasons why they can’t read something. Talk to them, and then listen to their argument. It is always better to sit down and discuss why something is appropriate to read and why something isn’t. Just simply saying no fails to stop an inquisitive mind.
A book, unlike a gun, doesn't have to go off.
Scott’s the author of two new novels: “A Jane Austen Daydream” and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare”. His writing on a variety of topics can also be found online at sdsouthard.com. His blog is called “The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.”