Thursday, October 4, 2012

Banned Books Week, continued

Following Scott's excellent post on Banned Books Week, I wanted to add my personal experience regarding this topic.

I was born in Argentina at the peak of the last military dictatorship, in 1977. The society in which I was born and raised was oppressed for years until the people united against tyranny and said "Nunca Mas," Never Again. When I was young, there were a lot of things that weren't available to me and the rest of the population. Some of them were books, music, and theater. Whatever made it to the public was dubbed in Spanish with all the consequences this brings. The message was diluted to what a small group of people thought it was okay for society. In fact, it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I read Little Women in English for the first time and discovered that several paragraphs and whole chapters had been deleted from the translated version I had memorized as a child. I felt like I had been hit in the stomach by a futbol going a hundred miles an hour (and I have in real life. I know that feeling very well)

Among other things, I had never even heard of The Hobbit or of the Lord of Rings Trilogy. When I arrived at BYU, one of the first things I did was go to the library. I was overwhelmed by the amount of books that the walls and countless shelves of not one floor, but five! I could have stayed there forever and never go to class. In fact, if I never stepped in a classroom but was allowed to spend as much time as I wanted in that library, I would have been satisfied.

Fortunately, I did go to class; one of the first ones was an English honors in which we discussed The Lord of the Rings. I remember the very first quizz. I studied for hours, unused to the difficult language of the book (English is my second language after all, but Tolkien's wasn't the English I had studied for years).

I was dismayed when I read the questions. I had no idea who Bilbo was, and there were five questions on this character. When I complained to the professor, he said he had included questions from The Hobbit, and since it was popular culture we all should know it.

I still disagree with his logic, although it makes sense in a way. Eventually I did very well in that class, and I think the professor had a reality check: not all students came from the same background and culture, and as a consequence defined popular culture a little different from him.

Where I'm going with this is, no small group of people has the right to say what I am allowed to consider writing/reading/seeing/saying. During the military dictatorship countless artists were exiled from Argentina because their work was deemed revolutionary, anti-patriotic.

When I was in high school I had the blessing of being friends with a group of girls who, like me, loved reading and discussing the ideas we read. We borrowed and lent books to each other, and we talked. There were many books I read that I didn't like. But I could read them, or put them away if I didn't want to continue giving my time to something I didn't enjoy. Yesterday, I was reading a Stephen King's book in English for the first time, and I reached a passage that really disturbed me because of the violence. I put it away. Do I think no one should ever read that book? No. Everyone has the right to read whatever they please. My son is almost twelve, and he's a read-a-holic like his mother. However, there are some books I don't want him to read yet. There is plenty of time for some things. But when he's old enough, they'll be available for him.

Sometimes when we read these now so popular dystopian books, we as readers are horrified by some aspects of those fictional societies. I'm horrified because I lived in one, and the effects of the lack of freedom TO THINK are devastating. My country still hasn't recovered.

Read books. Banned or not. Think for yourself. Give others the same right.


gaylene said...

Wow. I love this post! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

Lisa Campbell said...

Excellent post. I loved hearing about your experience in Argentina. I agree with your thoughts completely!

Shar said...

thanks for sharing, yamile! i loved reading this. it's so good to hear other perspectives and learn from them.

(ps. i think that professor was wrong to quiz something unless it was part of the curriculum you'd already covered. i would have failed too . . . since i didn't read The Hobbit until friends in college who were LOTR megafans were shocked i'd never read any of them. ha ha ha.)