November 29, 2004

Censorship

In honor of his birthday, I'm posting this C.S. Lewis quote. Doesn't this sound like a wonderful childhood?

"I am a product...[of] books. There were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloak room, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves."
On a more personal note, one of the things that I admire most about my parents (Mom and Pop Wordnerd) is that they never tried to censor my reading material (well, there was that one time in junior high when I bought a copy of the National Enquirer and my mom threw it in the trash but that was an anomaly). They trusted me to choose my own books and develop my own sense of what was worth reading and what was morally acceptable. In doing so, they gave me the message that I was capable of thinking for myself.

I remember reading The Mists of Avalon in fifth grade. Admittedly, I missed some of the more subtle sexual innuendo, but I understood the vast majority of the book. However, I first experienced censorship one day when I made the mistake of taking the book to school with me. My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Ordover, was absolutely scandalized that I was reading it and refused to believe that my parents would let me read "that kind of filth". I remember feeling like my feet were nailed to the floor, standing in absolute shock as she took the book away from me and told me that I was too young to know what I was reading and shouldn't be reading it anyway. That experience made me feel smaller and weaker than I had ever felt before. This was the first time that I remember being told that I was not capable of making decisions for myself. It is ironic that this battle took place over a book which (within the framework of the King Arthur myths) focuses largely on themes of choice and consequence, independence vs. independence and censorship vs. intellectual freedom.

A few years later (perhaps in eighth grade?) I picked up a slasher thriller with some fairly lurid sexual murders, almost pornographic in nature. My parents were probably unaware of what I was reading but I believe that even had they known they would have maintained their laissez faire policy. That book taught me the consequences of making bad reading choices: I was so frightened by it that I couldn't stop reading until the killer was stopped and I was too afraid to sleep alone for the next two nights. I quickly learned that I didn't want to read anything like that again.

In retrospect, The Mists of Avalon might not have been the best choice for a ten year old and the sexual slasher book is (in my opinion) inappropriate for any reader regardless of age but I greatly respect my parents for allowing me to make that decision for myself.

3 Comments:

Blogger Misha Tch. shared an opinion...

You never mentioned if you actually liked The Mists of Avalon at the time and if you like it now that you've grown to understand it. By the way, what is the book about? I've never even heard of it...

6:00 am  
Blogger John shared an opinion...

I think the best advice you can give to bookish young parents is this: don't be afraid to let your kids get bored.

My young son gets so bored that he has taken to liking reading. He can't read yet, mind you, but he thinks he can. He knows the stories (because his dad has read them to him) and he "reads" them to his younger brother.

Someday his books will get better, and he won't do it because he is bored. He will read because rading is fun. His parents will make sure that the TV is always dusty.

He will thank us later.

John ROgers
therapysessions.blogspot.com

12:10 pm  
Blogger Arevanye shared an opinion...

Awesome blog! I just put that C.S. Lewis quote on my blog the other day--I think the thing that can be said about C.S. Lewis is that he was considered one of the most well-read people of his generation at Oxford. I think this shows through in his writing, in that he had an endless well of great literature to draw upon for inspiration.

The motto in my house is "a girl can never have too many books."

3:35 pm  

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