It’s a curious experience to consider well-intentioned attempts at censorship. I don’t mean the assholes who object to the word vagina, or to children being empowered to think for themselves, or to uppity talking animals. I mean the mother of the only black child at the school whose daughter says she feels like she’s being punched every time she hears the n-word while the class reads Huckleberry Finn. How many times do we have to read the rape scene from Tess of D’Urbervilles, or Streetcar Named Desire? Or the romanticized felony relationships in Wuthering Heights, Twilight, Beauty and the Beast? Of course it’s troubling to be inside the mind of a pedophile in Lolita.
Sometimes books make us feel uncomfortable. I’ve thrown books across the room. I’ve put them in the car so I don’t have to sleep near them. I’ve gotten into vicious arguments over themes and viewpoints.
I feel for the mother of that child. Nobody should be put into the position where you HAVE to educate the people around you on their privilege.
Which is why we have books. It is. Books exist to tell the story of human experience. All those experiences. And any given book may only speak to some of the kids in the class. To some of the people in the book club. To a handful at work. But that makes them more vital, not less so. Books are meant to spark discussion not pat your head and tuck you in. The ones that bug the shit out of me — the ones I can’t bear to touch — those are the stories I need to read most. Precisely because they require that I reconcile my objections. That I think critically. They inspire debate. They require that I consider the whole of humanity, not just my own experience.
I can go the rest of my life without reading stories of World War II, or anything with a rape. These stories bother me more than they used to. And not the good bother, but the kind with a trigger. I don’t know what I would do if she were my daughter. But I know it would involve more books and not fewer of them. I would surround her with stories that used words that didn’t feel like punches, but felt like ladders and pathways and wings. This is why we need an arena and not a hallway. We need more viewpoints and more stories.
The world won’t improve if we gut the libraries. It’ll improve if we educate ourselves. If we become more enlightened than we have previously been.