Book Slut: An Ode to Challenged Books
One of my fondest memories as a reader is the year when I was a tween I decided to read every book on the 100 most challenged book list as published by the King County Library System. One by one I devoured every one and thought about what made them so terrible in the eyes of a few people.
I cried. I got angry. I was sad. I read things I didn’t entirely understand and would return to years later. I read books I had no interest in and couldn’t connect to.
Given the frothy mouthed things I’d read about book censorship debates, I fully expected to be twisted by my adventure. I expected that I’d be struggling with being a drug addled, teenaged prostitute who was pregnant and running away and of spectacularly loose morals. I was under the impression that reading these books, that letting their wicked ideas into my head would change me.
I was down for it and I waited for some shift in my brain to happen. I waited for the inevitable rejection of my budding personal system of morality and ethics to dissolve under the weight of books like Private Parts by Howard Stern or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison to just happen.
I read more books.
I started reading really dirty books by Henry Miller, Anne Rice and other perverse people. I daydreamed about being a beautiful gay boy and having Kerouac or Burroughs or Corso as my lovers. I thought about running away to befriend Alice Walker and sit at her feet to learn to be a writer.
I thought about my Queerness and how to deal with it.
I turned 16 and started trying to plan a life as a writer.
I wanted a girlfriend.
I still hadn’t been ruined by my promiscuous reading.
I exposed myself to violent texts, queer sex, drug use, prostitution, smoking, bullying, offensive language, adult situations, weird or extreme political viewpoints- I didn’t only expose myself to these things I craved them. I gorged on them.
Inside those inappropriate pages I found visions of myself. I discovered worlds I might not have been able to reach out and touch, but that made sense to me and thus helped the outside world to make sense to me.
I was still a child.
When I had problems and questions I didn’t have the voice to ask, they were inside books. When I wanted to be deliciously terrified, books were there. When the whole world seemed too big and terrifying, I had books.
For every person who says that children or teenagers shouldn’t read this or that, I say calm down maybe you shouldn’t read it.
I joyfully encourage the kids and the teens and everyone to read promiscuously. Read things that churn your stomach. Read things that terrify you. Read about people you hate. Read.
The world is waiting for you and if you are a tween like I was, it just might save you.
PS for some more info on banned or challenged books, read here.