By Teagan Durkin | Staff Writer
When I was a high school sophomore, my book club selected a book that I did not personally vote for. Given that I had already led us to several magnificent reads— I have an impeccable literary taste— I was a bit crestfallen but accepted defeat gracefully. However, while I was open to trying something new, and still am in my literary explorations, I could not read this book. Several pages in, an unexpectedly graphic scene of sexual assault bled through the pages. Feeling lightheaded and unable to continue, I put the book down and never touched it again. My book club had neglected to advertise potential trigger warnings regarding the novel’s content. Although other readers spoke on how much they enjoyed it, I felt uncomfortable and could not finish it. However, even though I was unable to fully participate in that book club discussion meeting, I was happy that other individuals found something beautiful within the story, and were excited to animatedly dissect the nuanced details and elegant prose.
I will say this once and then elaborate: there is a thousand-mile difference between cautionary warnings and banning. A warning allows the reader to evaluate what they can consume, or perhaps what they’re ready to face, and proceed from there on their own terms. While this is evidently difficult with a very young age group, as it is only natural to want to protect someone, there is a key difference between protection and projecting one’s own bias onto what someone else can consume. Banning, with a horrifying history of completely erasing nuanced identities, has no place in a country of free expression. According to the Library of Congress, books are central in “promoting democratic and civil discourse.” The books that are most often banned tend to include protagonists of color, LGBTQIA+ characters or information, and areas of history that are painful but necessary to address. Banning books strips readers of all ages of the chance to thoughtfully and meaningfully engage with complex subject matter, but also to discover an affirming depiction of themselves within literature.
Several weeks ago, Franklin and Marshall welcomed graphic novelist Maia Kobabe for a panel discussion and Q&A. As well as discussing eir book, Gender Queer, and touching on several aspects of eir’s creative process, Kobabe also addressed Gender Queer’s widespread banning throughout the U.S. Continuing the conversation on banned books, the Writers House will be hosting a panel discussion with several professors from different departments on April 5th at 4:30. This event is in the Writers House and is open to anyone who is interested in attending.
As Pennsylvania is the second state with the most banned books, the fight against banned books is particularly prevalent. People deserve to see themselves in every varied form within what they read. Unfortunately, the banning of books is fueled by misunderstandings and strengthened by subtle or outright hatred. However, to advocate for banned books, one must simply do what they already do.
Love what you read; discuss it with friends over tea and coffee. Hate what you read, for a reason deeper than fear, and rant to your friends about the one-dimensional characters that don’t pass the Bechdel test. But understand that every book is not for you, but it is for someone.
First-year Teagan Durkin is a Staff Writer. Her email is email@example.com.