The freedom to read

I grew up in a sim­ple Cape Cod house. It had, at the time, two bed­rooms and one bath­room for the five of us. When I was four, my par­ents added an exten­sion to the back of the house with two bath­rooms and a pri­ma­ry bed­room. The orig­i­nal bath­room was con­vert­ed into an actu­al library. Bookshelves were con­struct­ed from floor to ceil­ing, and my father built a desk for us to research, work on home­work, and to col­or with our mark­ers and crayons.

Aligned like sol­diers at bat­tle, all our books were on those shelves, from Grimm’s Fairy Tales to books my par­ents pur­chased. We would sit on the floor on rainy days and read for hours on end. 

Stacks of books
Stacks of books (Photo by Ed Robertson)

One day, a book caught my eye and I start­ed read­ing The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins. Honestly, I can­not tell you the plot or any­thing else, except the book did con­tain some sex and lan­guage unbe­com­ing a 12-year-old. I do remem­ber my moth­er say­ing that it was inap­pro­pri­ate for me to read. That was all she had to say. Every time she left the house, my nose was in that book. I want­ed to know what all the fuss was about. Strangely enough, my par­ents nev­er hid the book. It stayed right on that shelf. My first expe­ri­ence with book ban­ning was actu­al­ly a choice to read.

As a librar­i­an, the hair on the back of my neck rais­es a lit­tle when I hear or read about ban­ning books. I have spent the major­i­ty of my life hand­ing out books to friends or post­ing about them on social media. I ask peo­ple in wait­ing rooms, at restau­rants, and on planes what they are read­ing. Why? I feel read­ing is a reflec­tion of an individual. 

Some peo­ple read only non­fic­tion. Some read­ers love a great mys­tery or his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. My reper­toire is var­ied. I love fic­tion. I rel­ish a book of poet­ry that brings nature into my easy chair and the sounds of winds and gur­gling streams with it. I love a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion when I walk the open fields of the West or climb the hill­sides of Appalachia.

As far as I am con­cerned, book ban­ning destroys the idea of cre­ativ­i­ty. What it is pro­mot­ing is for all of us to think alike, be alike, and allow oth­ers to decide what we can or can­not read. I was lucky. In times when par­ents were not nec­es­sar­i­ly for­ward-think­ing, mine were. They allowed me to read, explore, and even though the book might have been a bit mature for me, it was nev­er tak­en off the library shelf. 

I would only hope that we have the same fore­sight as my par­ents did fifty years ago, to con­tin­ue the lega­cy of the writ­ten word and allow books to stay on the shelf.

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