Don’t ban books

Posted: March 31, 2012

Banned books give an artistic voice to the marginalized

Olivia Dorow Hovland, Talon staff writer

Each year the American Library Association comes out with a list of the ten books that have been most banned by schools, libraries, churches or organizations in the past year. In 2010, the last year in which the list was published, recently popular books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer were in the group alongside classics like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The most prevalent reasons for banning  books were for “sexually explicit material”, “explicit language” and material deemed “unfit for age group”.

John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska has also been one to rankle readers over the years for the explicit material it contains but its questionable content doesn’t make the novel, or many other banned books, “unfit” for teenage readers.

In his book Green takes the voice of Miles “Pudge” Halter, a recent transfer student to a prestigious boarding school in Alabama. While at Culver Creek, Pudge experiences a sort of awakening; he makes new friends, smokes his first cigarette and spends evenings drinking strawberry wine on the soccer field while reading Kurt Vonnegut.
Pudge speaks about his life with a casual frankness that downplays his recreational activity, some of which may be viewed as taboo for people of his age. He approaches each new revelation with curiosity and cynicism in equal measure.
Reading a book that casually discusses disconcerting material can leave readers confused and uncomfortable. I would argue though, that there can be artistic value in such works.

By describing Pudge’s experiences in the disenchanted, caustic voice of his protagonist, Green isable to create a more vivid illustration of what Pudge’s time at Culver Creek was really like. Before going to boarding school Pudge spent his free time reading in his bedroom. Now he plays elaborate, explosive pranks on school administrators, indulges in “bufriedos”, the artery-blocking culinary creation of the school cafeteria, and pays tribute to deceased classmates with cigarette offerings at the smoking hole.

Most controversial material is meant to be artistic rather than insensitive. It adds depth to a movie, song, art piece, or novel. There are exceptions, but I suggest examining the author’s intentions before immediately banning it.

Artistic works deserve to be considered and analyzed instead of condemned outright. Considering and learning from different perspectives is respectful and wholly beneficial.

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