Graphic by Denise Chan
By Charlotte Klingman
Books can be extremely contentious, but even more contentious is the idea of censoring books widely accessible to the public. What often goes overlooked is the multiple messages prevalent in practically every book.
As someone who has adored books for as long as I can remember, I personally love picking out the various messages stories have to offer.
By altering books, the fundamental elements of the books can be conserved without the threat of problematic content.
Parental worry is one of the main factors that results in books being banned. A survey of 1,000 parents in the UK conducted by online bookseller The Book People found that one-third of them do not read their children scary stories in an effort to reduce exposure to inappropriate content.
Yet, how secure would these parents feel if they knew that their children could be reading worse material in the library? Editing books provides an extraordinary solution: parents can choose when and where to introduce their children to topics they feel could be potentially harmful.
By editing books, schools and parents reach a golden compromise: the children would be able to read what they desire, and parents wouldn’t worry about exposing their children to disturbing content such as racism, sexism, and bad role models. Many parents prefer to introduce their children to topics they don’t approve of on their own terms—altering literature would give them the freedom to do so.
The books that should be edited are outdated and carry harmful messages. In the past, major issues like sexism and racism were more prevalent, and children reading these books could easily absorb harmful stereotypes which have the capacity to shape their worldviews.
Now, more attention is called to these issues, like in schools where students can learn about them in a controlled environment.
Unfortunately, many beloved works of children’s literature also have some unpleasant themes. Altering these books would accomplish the best of both worlds: children and adults alike could learn about and treasure these historical books while also not teaching their kids that some of the problematic themes present are acceptable in today’s world.
For example, the classic Peter Pan is beloved by many; however, it is extremely problematic in its portrayal Native Americans. Many parents would not want their children to read racist content, but many would still like their children to experience the same stories they had in their youth.
If literature could be altered for children to read, children could still read the story of Peter Pan, which has melted readers’ hearts for decades, while not being prone to the outdated and offensive messages about Native Americans embedded in the text. This might seem like an unprecedented stride for our society, but it’s already been done: for example, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle was revised to exclude passages with racist material.
Editing books does not discard the entire message, yet it still enables the books to reach more readers in a safe way.
I would like to live in a world where we can raise newer generations with equitable morals while keeping the reverence of the past’s timeless stories.
Although some may be skeptical at first, editing books is one of the most efficient ways to honor history’s stories while not compromising today’s morals, values and human rights.
By Elad Levy
In 212 BC, Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti burned every book in his kingdom in one of the oldest book bannings in history. Later, the Romans, Catholics, Americans and most modern societies had their turn to ban books too.
Needless to say, throughout history, book censorship has had its fair share of moments. Whether a book is considered “too saucy” by King James I, or simply “unsuited for any age group” in America today, there are many unwarranted reasons why books are censored.
No matter what book it is, there is always an audience mature enough to read it. Thus, censorship isn’t necessary. Hitler’s famous manifesto Mein Kampf was banned to the general public until 2016 in Germany, but was allowed to be read by historians with special permission.
These historians were granted permission because they are knowledgeable and unpersuaded by Hitler’s beliefs; they are simply reading the book to study it.
Banned books, when allowed to reach the public’s eyes like they were meant to, can also heal a wounded soul. Reading about pain gives a person a greater understanding of life. It makes them more emotionally intelligent and sympathetic and it makes them more prepared to face pain in the real world.
It is essential to cope with pain and trauma by reflecting and talking about it. By exposing people to their vices and giving them a character they can relate to, books aid them in embracing their pain.
To understand why books might be altered, let’s look at the worst-case scenario: a book drives someone to kill. Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon, was reading The Catcher in the Rye at the crime scene until his arrest. Many people drew the conclusion that the book inspired the murder.
As such, it only seems logical that outrageous and dangerous books should be banned for everyone, right? Wrong.
Not all desirable experiences have to be good. Most revered books aren’t sad. Tense or hateful literature will not have much of an effect on an emotionally stable person, nor will it lead them to do awful things.
The same is relatively true of the mentally unstable.
However, they are a slightly different story. Chapman had schizophrenia. The Catcher in the Rye didn’t make him kill — he was already in an unstable state.
Along the same vein, books with racist, sexist or otherwise problematic messaging don’t necessarily make someone racist or sexist. We should trust readers to read critically and separate the worthwhile takeaways from the unsavory ones.
Even if a book deemed inappropriate enough to be banned puts improper ideas in the heads of readers, the cost of banning the book must be considered. By providing comprehensive education and resources to combat the problematic themes in the book, we can allow people to reflect on the themes without discarding them altogether.
When we are able to identify problematic themes in books, we become more aware of how these tropes impact the world outside of literature.
Increased child support should be prioritized over decreased intellectual capacity. Perhaps even increased parental education on mental illnesses should be prioritized over emotional deprivation.
Books don’t have to be censored, people must be understood.