Banned Books Week starts today! It is my favourite literary celebration of the year. There is nothing like illicit reading to get your heart pumping. Especially if you do it knowingly 😉
Like most bookworms, my earliest experiences with forbidden reading were reading after lights-out at bedtime, and reading (novels) in class when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher.
I really upped my game when I had “read out” everything of interest in the children’s department of the library, and I started accompanying my mom to the adult section at age 11. I started with Agatha Christie and authors my mom liked, such as Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (whom I later discovered were all the same person!!) But it wasn’t long before I selected my own books. I knew very well my parents would have forbidden me to read some of them. Therefore, when I read The Exorcist alone in my room at age 12, and it scared the crap out of me, I suffered in silence and wouldn’t ‘fess up! (In retrospect, I’m sure they would have understood, and used it as an example of why some limits were appropriate!)
In junior high, I read the teen books now known as “problem novels,” in which the main character always personified a teen issue: drug abuse in the now-discredited Go Ask Alice, teenage sex in Judy Blume’s Forever, and a lesbian relationship in Happy Endings Are All Alike. Of course, these books all taught me that everything ends and everybody dies 😦 My sister and I got a particular kick out of reading John Benton’s Christian Problem Novels in which the naughty teens do all the bad things under the sun and then get Born Again 🙂
By grade 9, I was reading all the potboilers of the decade, such as Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls, 1966), Sidney Sheldon (The Other Side of Midnight, 1973) and Judith Krantz (Scruples, 1978). My search for smut knew no bounds as I devoured Penthouse Forum letters, and stashed Playgirl magazines in my closet (not yet knowing that its key audience was gay men).
But something happened as I sped through thousands of pages of light, bawdy entertainment: I got tired of it. I wanted something more. I read Diary of a Young Girl, and Night, and I Am David and The Hiding Place. I read Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, and Underground to Canada and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read school-curriculum books like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. I read books that I’d heard were controversial, like The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, and Marian Engel’s Bear. I read books I thought were funny like those by Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins. I read supposed erotica like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint. I read supposed classics like Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World, and Walden. I read Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood. And along the way, I became rather well-read.
It’s now cool to like risqué books. Every 70-year-old has read 50 Shades of Grey. But as soon as And Tango Makes Three shows up in a school library, a ruckus ensues. I don’t think that reading banned books warped me. Unless you think that thrice-married, somewhat androgynous, open-minded, humanist librarians are warped?
Enjoy Banned Books Week and tell me all about your sneaky, guilty-pleasure, and outright wrong-headed reading!