Recently, The Great Gatsby appeared on a list of books people want cut from reading lists.
Quelle horreur! More book banning? Where are my pearls so that I might clutch them? My upcoming novel, Daisy, is based on that wonderful novel!
Actually, the list that includes Fitzgerald’s classic comes from teachers, librarians, and other educators who responded to a School Library Journal survey about summer reading lists. Those experts were concerned about students who don’t connect with the “classics” and might need more relevant reading to keep them interested over the summer.
As much as it pains me to say it, they have a point. If the goal of summer reading lists is to avoid the “summer slide” of lost reading achievement, then maybe books on such lists should include exciting and relevant choices.
The SLJ survey demonstrates a process, however, that school boards and libraries go through all the time. They regularly cull their shelves, trying to make room for new books, while evaluating whether the content of some is appropriate.
Sometimes these efforts wander into challenging territory. A Tennessee school district, for example, proposed banning the Pulitzer-prize-winning Holocaust-themed graphic novel Maus in January, not because they didn’t want children to learn about the Holocaust but because of what some on the board saw as age-inappropriate content (they objected to some language and images in the book).
This and similar efforts to remove books from schools and libraries always create an uproar, but I wonder if it’s always justified.
Take the Maus ban, for example. First, if I’d been on the board, I doubt if I’d have voted to ban it. But I wouldn’t have sneered at those who, taking their responsibilities to children in their district seriously, were concerned about inappropriate material for certain age groups. To persuade them they are wrong in that belief means taking their concerns seriously, not mocking them.
I feel similarly when I hear of other book removals. A lot of them involve people working diligently to serve their districts as best they know how. Yes, sometimes they might be wrong. But they’re not akin to the Nazis of the 1930s who celebrated burning books from mostly Jewish authors. To act as if they are diminishes the real evil of those earlier actions.
They’re trying, as the respondents to the SLJ survey were attempting to do, to figure out how to choose books wisely for various age groups. (And, by the way, despite my agreement with the teachers’ and librarians’ goals in that survey, I don’t think Gatsby should be dropped from summer reading lists. Some students might be entranced by it. I was when I was younger. The same with Jane Eyre, another book on that cut list.)
Whenever these “book banning” stories appear, they seem to focus exclusively on certain books being challenged by certain officials. Others don’t get much attention at all. Yet, if people are truly concerned about a slippery slope of unfettered book banning, shouldn’t they also be upset about all book bans/challenges?
Don’t misunderstand me. I do think we always need to be vigilant against extremism, but that vigilance also means having the discernment skills to know when not to cry wolf at every book challenge (unless it’s for this wolf).
Now, back to the original point of this post, which is, of course, to promote my upcoming novel, Daisy. (Did I mention it’s available digitally this July and in print this September?) It’s been praised by Publishers Weekly’s BookLife fiction contest, where it was a quarter finalist, and you can find more about its story and see more praise on it at my author homepage. I would love for as many readers as possible to buy and enjoy Daisy with its strong message of female empowerment.
Sales of Maus soared when that Tennessee school board voted to take it off the shelves. Similar sales jumps have occurred in other books that have made the news for being challenged or banned.
So, please, take my book. And ban it.