And they Burned it...

September 6, 2009
By Anonymous

They sit there talking about the book like it was poison. Discussing it as if Eve had lifted the pages and forced Adam to eat from the sinful words written inside the script. And I sit. I sit listening to what they're saying, listening to a bunch of adults chatter about a book written for teenagers. I know the old adage - they too were once young and they understand the life of a teenager; but do they? Do they understand life today? And still they sit, and still I sit listening to them talk about how this book shouldn't be read. The librarian going on and on about she wouldn't feel comfortable checking this book out to another student. Another teacher commenting on making a "restricted section" of the library for students 17 and older. Yeah - like that would be effective. The only effective measure creating a restricted section would accomplish might be to entice more students to read, to bring Mark Twain's words to life not from the pages of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, but from his quote, "the more things are forbidden the more popular they become". And I know this quote; I know Mark Twain because I read. I know this would happen; tell a teenager not to do something and their inner rebel perks up his ears like a hound on the hunt. Restricted section, I scoff. Shall we have girls burn their bras next? Maybe organize a sit-in or a peaceful protest? Better yet, might we burn the book? Set it on fire in a metal trash can and have the principal strike the match. Ban it with other great works of literature I'm now required to read. Tear it to pieces like they did The Canterbury Tales, Leaves of Grass, Catcher in the Rye, Frankenstein, much of Shakespeare, and even the Bible itself.

I am among a minority of my peers; I read. I read because I want to. I read to escape, to be entertained, to understand, to question, to think, to deliberately be smarter than my classmates. But, still they sit and talk without once focusing on the fact that this young man picked up a book out of choice; that he chose literature when he could have chosen a video game, a movie, or some fantastical depiction of reality on a TV show that has very little to do with reality. He chose and his choice was the written word. They do not focus on that because this book is not required reading. It's not filled with the literary allusions and illustrations my teachers know of and so desperately want me to find each year. They are there within the pages of my novel, but not noticed. Currently they still sit, finding passages in the book, taking them out of context so that they are more controversial than they might seem as a whole. Reading a line here and there, highlighting the profanity as if what I hear in the hallway between classes, or even in class, is any different than what is printed on the pages of my novel.
Is a piece of literature so powerful that it might turn all those who read it into whatever the words project? If this is a certainty, then why do we worry about our salvation? If printed words on a page have the power to change who we are, then why are we not all on our way to the "pearly gates" as most of us have read the Bible? Why are we all not star crossed lovers seeking that which we can not have, "O' Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?" They talk about how the book might put thoughts of suicide in a student's head. Trust me when I say I don't need a novel to consider offing myself. I'm 16 and that thought often comes with the territory. They destroy the words written on the pages, examining ideas line by line rather than the piece as an entire literary work, sacrificing in blood each element of the story and making me think. They are making me question the very nature of the existence of literature more than any book ever did! They are so worried about a string of words that they've completely abandoned the focus of this discussion: me and my choice. This seems to be the case with most of the "grown-ups" in my life. When exactly is it about me and why I've done something and not about just what I've read or who my friends are? When is it not about my grades or my family or even my choices in literature, but simply about me?
The book is, no doubt, a mature read. I knew that when I picked it up. The back cover alone focuses on the predatory nature of human beings and the trials and tribulations we face every day in dysfunctional families and relationships, but why is that an issue? I watch daily as my classmates struggle with the separation of being an adult at home and a child at school. I watch how parents become that which is predatory and no one is sitting in a conference room discussing this for each child. I wonder: If every struggling child picked up a novel, would the focus change? Would we, those that are forced into manhood before our time, suddenly become the focus of these meetings or would it still be about "the book"? The ending, that with which we are most concerned when reading a book we can't put down, is about survival; survival of what this world does to us as young people. Survival of every bad decision adults in our life make, survival of our own bad decisions and survival of what is yet to come. It amazes me as they talk about this book that supposedly will ruin my life; I seem to be nowhere in the conversation. And still we sit; helpless to change, helpless to act. The longer I sit, the more definite is my loss of this battle. Because as they have sat and talked, and I have sat and listened, these educated people have struck the match...and they burned it.

The author's comments:
Short story inspired by a book banning conversation I over-heard one day in the teacher's lounge. Not submitting for me, just submitting to understand how my students can submit work.

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