Why reading is better than banning.

October 23rd, 2010 by |

One of my favorite essays on banning books comes from Florence King. She’s a person whose writing I admire but whose politics I almost never agree with. I’m in agreement with her, though, in her opinion about banning books. In an essay called “My Savior, Fannie Hearst,” she wrote the following:

The problem with censorship is that the people who do the censoring are always so shortsighted, especially when it comes to “Our Children.” Instead of taking certain books out of school libraries, we should be putting them in.

She then goes on to describe a book, “Back Street”, by Fannie Hurst, that abandoned the trope of the glamorous mistress and made the whole thing sound like such an awful enterprise that “sex was never quite the same afterwards.”

Libraries and schools are supposed to be places that open up our worlds, and let us think about new possibilities. For many, they are also places where the joy of certain things are crushed out ruthlessly with reading lists, long discussions, and tedious essays. People who like math, usually, don’t like it quite so much when it’s presented five times a week using a structure that they’re not fond of. People become used to, and then become irritated by, things they usually like.

Many books have been banned for their sexual content. It has been debated whether Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls” is literature or pornography or both. What isn’t debated is that it is Three. Volumes. Long. What is that, a month of school? A month of assigned reading, dry classroom analysis, pop quizzes regarding content, and a long, stress-filled count down until a final essay, in which most kids will be struggling to come up with something new to say, would be due.

Other books are banned for violence, or strong language. I would say it’s unlikely that ‘strong language’ could wrangle its way further into the culture than it already has. In fact, I think it’s probably going to take some creative minds to come up with some new curse words that the average person would be shocked to hear.

There are always more creative things to be done with violence, but after a while they lose their edge. People who would otherwise be shocked by violence don’t consider it a problem anymore, and so they don’t take action when action is needed. On the other hand, people who aren’t shocked by action are usually not thrilled by it, either. A two week camp at which people read nothing but “The Authority,” “The Boys,” the third volume of “The Ultimates,” and any and all other violent comics, would lead to some kids who, I think, would really love to read some issues of “Archie.”

Not all the kids would turn away, from either sexual or violent content. Some kids would end two weeks of seeing eyeballs explode from skulls wishing only that they could find a comic that showed two eyeballs exploding from two heads facing each other, so the eyeballs could hit each other and burst in mid-air. There are some kids who, after reading “Lost Girls” wish that there were a more extensive look at cartoon boobs.

To them I say, go for it. If people are willing to wade hip deep through things meant to be singular and extreme, to examine them closely, to talk about them and study them and analyze them, and at the end of all of that still want more – those people are genuinely interested in the subject matter. The point is, that there will be a few people who like the stuff, and a lot of people who are happy to move on because they’re not titillated by the prospect of taboo – which is exactly the opposite of what happens when you ban books.

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3 comments to “Why reading is better than banning.”

  1. Second-to-last paragraph…I think I want to see that comic book just to see it happen.

  2. Thanks E I-A for such a succinct argument against banning books. I find some things so deplorable that at times my sentiment to ban gains traction against my principle not to.

  3. See, personally, I think banning is better than reading.