It feels like all of my anecdotes have been told until they're ready to shrivel up and float away. I'm going to start with one that happened when I was in about eight grade.
My dad worked nights, and there was sort of a revolving paperback library where he worked, and sometimes he'd bring the books home. He brought one home and put it on top of the refrigerator. I was five-foot-six at the time--not my actual adult height, but definitely big enough to figure out the top of the refrigerator--and I pulled it down because, hey! Book! Right?
Oh no... you mustn't read that book. That book was a mistake. Dad shouldn't have brought that home.
Oh. Okay. I had some Tolkien, some Piers Anthony, some Lloyd Alexander--who needed whatever the hell that was, right?
Until my stepmom told me to burn it.
I was appalled, but she was like, "It's a super shitty book--and we don't need it floating around the house and the library won't take it. Just burn it with the rest of the burn barrel.
I was a good kid--I mean I tried to be a good kid. So I took it out to the burn barrel and threw the other stuff in and, well, sort of flipped through the book while I was burning everything else.
As an adult who writes adult books with sex in them, I will tell you right now that this one was the grossest sort of trash. I've read porn that left me a lot hotter and not nearly as soiled as this book. Racist, grossly pornographic, four-big-black-guys-in-an-anal-gangbang-without-lube sort of trash.
Yes, I remember the scene almost verbatim.
I, uhm, hadn't known a penis could go there until that very moment.
I threw the book into the fire, feeling a little nauseous, and watched it burn, the edges turning black and curling, the center turning to a glowing furnace of pulp wood and glue.
It was the first time I got why people might want to burn books. I couldn't seem to shake those words. They'd burned themselves into my brain.
They followed me. Every sex scene I read as a young adult was compared to that one. Every time two people kissed or had a breakup scene or someone did something "beyond the pale" in a book I read, I'd remember that scene.
When I wrote books and love scenes, I endeavored with all my soul to not make a scene that would leave people feeling the way that shitty book left me feeling.
And here's the thing. All of that could have been avoided if my stepmom, whom I trusted, had merely said, "It's not the sex--it's the fact that the sex is demeaning to everyone involved. It gave me the oogies--I just don't want you to feel that way."
But no--I burned it. And in spite of seriously how bad the book was now I'm stuck with it burned in my mind.
My feelings on the big book banning thing that's sweeping the South.
First of all, to the hysterical and ignorant parents driving this because you're afraid your precious straight white child is going to learn something you know nothing about: you filthy cowards. These aren't books that are trying to demean people, or trying to titillate them--they're trying to inform people on the diversity of American experience. Does this book make you feel bad as a white person? Well maybe try not to be such a shitty white person. Do LGBTQ folk scare you? Well maybe inform yourself about them by reading some of their voices and see that they are just people like you. Well, maybe not "you" as in the ignorant filthy racist extremists who think burning ALL THE BOOKS is a good idea. But they are people with compassion and fear and empathy, so they are people BETTER than "you" and I bet that's super scary too, right?
Read a book and get over it.
And second of all, you children aren't going to not read these books.
I guarantee your children will read these books. I read a tweet that said, "In sixth grade there was one copy of Forever that got passed around to every kid in the class." Yes. That. There was one copy of Forever, and one of Deenie, and if your parents bought you science fiction, you'd get to read Anne McCaffrey with gay couples and pregnancy surrogacy and "proddy green dragons" and there are a thousand authors out there that will write a book your children will get their greedy little hands on and they will learn, and they will learn things that scare you and you will disagree with, and there's not a thing you can do to stop it from happening.
Just remember, people like you are the ones who took your children to see ParaNorman because it was an "animated children's film" and after watching 95% of a film dedicated to showing people why witch-hunts were bad got all bent out of shape when the hunky male teenager told Norman's sister that she'd like his boyfriend and they should all totally hang out. I'll never forget those ragey letters to the editor btw. "I just wanted to watch a wholesome movie about how we're all different and there were GAY characters in it! How DARE they?"
They dared because film and literature are always trying to break the barriers that keep humans trapped in their own hearts. That's what film and literature do. And it's scary.
It must be scary, or you idiots wouldn't be trying to ban that from happening--but just because it scares you doesn't mean it's wrong.
Now let's go back to that book I burned. The one I remember. The one that, as an adult, I can't believe was actually published and distributed. I was fired for giving a student a book, and nothing in my book was anywhere as gross as this book, that any kid could get in a library.
But frankly, most kids wouldn't.
Most kids would be reading Forever or Go Ask Alice or What About the Haynes Girl? or any of the books that covered real life problems and resonated with teenagers and expanded their world.
Kids don't like reading trash--and they know the difference. They know what engages their hearts. They know what expands their world. They know what literature is.
And I'll tell you something--if the grossest sort of trash had such a profound effect (even if it was by negative example) on my psyche because my mother made me burn it, imagine--simply imagine--what effect Maus or any of the other banned books that idiots are freaking out about--will do when kids get their hands on them. And they will get their hands on them. They'll have Banned Book Clubs. They'll send each other smuggled .pdfs. They'll write their own fan fiction if they have to--but they will break out of the bonds imposed upon them by teeny tiny fragile minds.
Banning books is reprehensible. It's ignorant. It's a sign of a fascist government and a fascist population.
But nothing--and I mean nothing--will ensure the next generation will be more open minded, more liberal, more ready to change the world than telling teenagers what they can and can not learn.
A book--bad or good--is so much more powerful if it is scary enough to ban.
And the people banning them--"Oh help! I'm such a fragile white person I don't want my kid to read Michelle Obama's biography because my kid might learn class and education and we want to stay proudly trashy, thank you!"-- will never, ever, ever understand.