The Pleasure of a Banned Book

The Pleasure of a Banned Book November 3, 2011

A week ago, I took away Ling’s library books, banning her from reading them.

Growing up, I read whatever I wanted.  Mama, believing that nothing led to academic success more than avid reading, censored nothing.  So I read everything, including junk.

I read literary junk–Harlequin and Regency romances, soon learning that reading the last chapter of each book while standing by the rack at the library gave me everything I needed to know including the satisfying romantic conclusion.

I read sordid junk–sitting on my bed next to my best friend in junior high, we flipped through stacks I had borrowed finding all the sex scenes and passed them back and forth to each other.

Each time we checked out books, Mama felt she had to protest to the librarian, “I don’t approve of what she’s reading!!!”

I even read violent and sordid junk.  Ironically, Mama picked out the worst of these at tag sales and mailed them to China where we spent my 9th grade for Baba’s sabbatical.  She sent 424 books to Beijing in 1979, determined her kids would keep reading even if there were no available English books in the country.  I read The Godfather on Thanksgiving Day.  I read a gay porn book.  I read a book on Roman coliseums that detailed how Romans got zebras and lions to rape women.  I learned a lot.

My dear aunt, so instrumental in leading me to love and follow Jesus, did not agree with Mama’s philosophy.  The summer after 4th grade when we visited for a month and I was in the throes of Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books, she would only borrow one a week for me, telling my cousins that she wanted me to read Christian books instead.  As a bookaholic who finished my latest Little House book on the first day, I was forced to read her Christian novels in my spare time.

They were terrible.

One series chronicled the lives of twins Ted and Terrie.  Ted, the devout brother and an enabler, constantly rescued Terrie, a pretty “bad girl” who was always drawn towards wild boys, cool clothes, and forbidden adventure.  By the end of each novel, Terrie would have experienced some terrible consequence to her sinful desires (although never pregnancy, STDs or bodily harm, which seem like the real consequences for those sorts of temptations), and would come back penitently to Jesus.  Of course, her repentance never lasted long, because by the next novel, off she was again, chasing something worldly that would lead to her sorrow.

So why am I, a product of free reading banning books in my home?

Because my oldest child is also a bookaholic and doesn’t have time to read.  Between 4.5 hours of homework a night and waking at 4:15 a.m. for swim practice, she doesn’t have hours to immerse herself in alternate worlds, and she doesn’t have the discipline to resist peeking into the towering stack of library books on her desk.

I warned her each time I found her lying on her bed with a book, so engrossed she didn’t hear me come in, and looking up with a start and a guilty face.  I told her I would take away her books if she couldn’t control herself.  After all, dieters should get rid of all junk food, and alcoholics should get rid of all booze.

But she couldn’t help herself, so I took away the books a week ago.  They’re sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor.

In my spare time–believe it or not I have more than my daughter–I’ve been digging into her stash.

So sad for her.  So fun for me.

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