About ten years ago, I ran across an article in Elle about author A.M. Homes. I don’t remember much about the article itself, other than the controversy surrounding one of her novels, The End of Alice. A recent high school graduate begins exchanging letters with a felon, convicted of child rape. As the book progresses, it becomes clear the young woman had a specific reason for contacting this inmate: she wants to know how he managed to seduce Alice.
The book wasn’t some new spin on Lolita. It was dark, violent, and at times, utterly depraved. How do I know this? I read it, of course. I had to. See, most humans are programmed to respond to this kind of shit. You tell us something is wrong (as many, many people did about Homes’s book) and we can’t help but be curious. Some of us are better than others about suppressing that curiosity. Some are not.
Tomorrow marks the end of the 30th Banned Books Week, a time devoted to calling out the newest versions of literary controversy. And as I sat there, reviewing the books and their reasons for ending up on the list, I have to wonder what the next step will be.
Tommy Smothers once said, “There’s nothing more scary than ignorance in action.” And that, in my opinion, is what leads to these books ending up on the list. Fear of something different makes you lash out. So what’s next?
To the parent who wants to ban the Gossip Girl series because of its themes of teenage debauchery, foul language, and sexual content, do you really think your child isn’t already exposed to that? Banning the book won’t prevent them from hearing about it. In fact, it’s likely to send them seeking information from other, more nefarious, sources.
To the man who would ban The Hunger Games because of its violent nature, I’ve got news for you. That sort of shit happens all over the world all the time. It’s an unfortunate result of the situations they’re stuck in, and don’t tell me if it came down to living or dying child you wouldn’t seriously consider making the same choice.
To the woman who thinks every copy of Brave New World ought to be burned, can you not understand it’s fiction? It’s not real. But it’s a perfect opportunity to start a discussion on its themes of racism and religion.
Banning books, I think, is only the first step toward a culture built on fear. We fear change, we fear differences, but those of us who are smart realize that these make our lives richer and more complete. Without them, our ignorance only makes us more dangerous.
Controversy breeds curiosity. For now, it sends people to the source, and hopefully they’ll decide for themselves whether the ban has merit or if it’s a load of bull. But I hope I never see the day where curiosity leads us in a direction that could end up turning the world upside down.