In communities all across the country, challenges to published fiction and efforts to ban books that offend some readers have been mounted for decades. The reasons vary. But, in general, this wry definition of a “censor” is usually apt: “A censor is someone who knows more than he thinks you ought to.” A piece in the Atlantic earlier this month poses the question: Who Should Decide What High School Kids Are Allowed to Read?
And how is a book to be fairly evaluated? It’s worth noting that the strongest advocates for banning a given book very often have not read the book themselves. They’ve read “the bad parts,” if anything. J.D. Salinger’s classic coming-of-age novel has had a bad reputation ever since it was published, more than 60 years ago. Once, while I was teaching high school English, I found in the book room an unopened carton of the Salinger novel, ordered by another teacher and never used. So I brought the books to my classroom of college-level freshmen–but took care to explain that some people had, long ago, found the book objectionable. Therefore, if a student did not want to read the book for any reason, I would assign another book to that student. The next day one boy delivered to me a note from his mother. It read, “I do not want my Bobby reading that book Catch Her in the Rye.”