There was news a few days ago that one of the local school districts in my hometown is going to begin “flagging” books on high school reading lists that have been challenged in the past. These books range from The Great Gatsby to To Kill a Mockingbird; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I really have to hand it to the school board - rather than expanding their students’ minds with the words of authors who see the world in new and challenging ways, the adults who know so much better are making sure parents are aware of the differences of opinion appearing in these books, and how detrimental that can be to the development of a young mind. Bravo.
I think what appalls me most about this is that it is a thin veil for censorship. While not outrightly banning these books from classroom reading lists, the school board nonetheless evokes a response that there is something “wrong” or “suggestive” about these titles. Personally, I think “suggestive” is one of the most complimentary terms that can be applied to a writers’ work. Some of the best, most life-changing novels I have ever read contain so-called “suggestive” content: the magical world created by J.K. Rowling for Harry to save from the clutches of evil; ZZ Packer’s completely eye-opening stories of what life is like for a young, black male or female; ANYTHING Lorrie Moore has written concerning cancer, how men treat women, how women treat men, having babies, September 11th, and growing up in this shit-crazy world; Sylvia Plath’s internal views of a depressed and suicidal mind; and just to name a few more - J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Nick Flynn’s The Ticking is the Bomb. Some of those aren’t even on required reading lists for high schools, but it makes me so incredibly sad that a school - a place where learning and expanding and growing should be openly ENCOURAGED - can easily place a mark beside the title of a book and say, “hey, watch out; this book could change your life.”
Suggestive is a beautiful word - it means just what it says. It suggests a new view of the world, one that we were not familiar with before. Parents should most definitely be concerned with what their kids are reading, but not because it is suggestive of something explicit; they should be concerned if it isn’t suggestive of anything new.
Reading is freeing, in more ways than one. To limit its scope is to limit everything.