Ban a book, close a mindWritten by Paulette D. Kilmer | | email@example.com
Books sweep away the cobwebs of mental sloth and the dust of cultural smugness. Indeed, the first time I ventured beyond my cozy, insulated world of purring kitties and warm bread on the sideboard was when I read “The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales” and realized that sometimes things go bump in the night. A few years later, “Nurse Cherry Ames” mixed humor with suspense to teach me about greed, betrayal and loss.
At the end of every school year, my father gave Bunky (my older brother) and me each $5 — a small fortune in the late 1950s — to buy around 20 books. We studied the brochure carefully to coordinate our purchases and maximize the number of our softcover treasures without repeating titles. During the winters, Mom helped us unearth gems from the boxes of books my uncle found at auctions.
In the summer, when heat spells filled my mother with terror that we might get polio, she lured us on to our screened-in porch with pitchers of Kool Aid and piles of freshly baked cookies. We read and laughed. Frequently, our friends, Harlan and Judy, joined us. Mom always found time to share our books. I fondly recall conversations with my mother, brother and friends about Farley Mowatt dog stories, Elizabeth George Speare’s “Witch of Blackbird Pond,” Mark Twain’s works and Charles Dickens’ novels, as well as very silly paperbacks. We discovered that reading took us on magic carpet rides to the hidden terrain of the soul. My mom was our first professor in literature. Moreover, she taught us to examine values woven into plots.
Is it any wonder I coordinate the UT Banned Books Week Vigil with Brian Hickam and Linda Smith? On Oct. 4, we will gather at the Center Stage in the UT Performing Arts Center to celebrate our 10th anniversary of protecting the right to read and think freely. Libraries, schools and civic centers around the nation will also join in the festivities as part of the 25th American Library Association Banned Books Week that begins on Sept. 30.
The power of words resides in their capacity to stir our imagination, to reveal new realities, to help us confront our fears and to illustrate the secrets of making life meaningful. My family helped me learn these lessons from books: In sacrificing to help others, we save ourselves. By keeping promises, we gain credibility. Through persistence, we overcome obstacles. Via remaining hopeful despite our despair, optimism empowers us to persevere until circumstances improve. Despite the seduction of lies, only the truth leads to lasting peace and harmony. As we attain wisdom, we realize the folly in confusing things with love or cruelty with courage. Banning books closes minds.
Only parents should determine what their children read because, then, they can discuss mores, problems and emotional issues (like depression, failure and peer pressure) with their sons and daughters before these tensions erupt into life-threatening crises.
Presently, the assumptions that books are old-fashioned and only the “good” ones deserve shelf space jeopardizes our democracy. Visiting Oxford University reminded me that all books, no matter how trivial or scandalous they may seem, contain picture windows into history. The Bodleian Library at Oxford carefully preserves every Harlequin romance because in a century or two, scholars will consider them invaluable.
Those who gather to shred Harry Potter novels or conspire to remove Maya Angelo and Judy Blume books from circulation should read George Orwell’s “1984,” Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Those masterpieces depict what happens when the marketplace of ideas becomes a black market visited only by those desperate enough to risk their sanity and life to know the truth.
Paulette D. Kilmer, an associate professor of communication at UT, was one of 35 scholars recently invited to participate in the Oxford Round Table on “Ethical Sentiments: The Waning Trust in Government” at the University of Oxford in England.