I have to admit that when the ALA released their list of the most banned books for 2006, I was surprised to see the Gossip Girl series. Really? Gossip Girl?
So, I did what any banned book aficionado would do–I read it. I hadn’t read it previously, for the same reason I never watched the OC–stories about spoiled, rich teenagers shopping and sleeping with each other bore me. When I want to read or watch TV about people spending $500 on a pair of shoes and sleeping with their best friend’s boyfriend, I prefer it to be about adults.
But I picked up Gossip Girl and guess what? I loved it. It’s trashy. It’s fun. Yes, these people are horrible people– but the book knows they’re horrible and is in no way holding them up as possible role models. You don’t like these people, but you’re not supposed to.
When I thought about why it was banned there are the usual instances of sex, drugs, drinking, and swearing. There’s probably also the nebulous “anti-family content” but do you know why I think it really gets banned? Because kids like it and you could never make the argument for it being Literature. It’s chick-lit, it’s Danielle Steele, it’s Sex and the City it’s harmless and it’s fun. WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!
We have long banned books that are trashy fun because they are bad for children. But these are the books that kids like, and in the next generation, the readers who are currently sneaking these books from well-intentioned adults will be giving them to their own children.
Don’t believe me? Just look at Nancy Drew. Nancy is a cultural icon and you’ll be hard pressed to find a library today without shelves of those tell-tale yellow spines. Mothers and librarians are giving them to children with fond memories of their own childhood, even though their own mothers and their librarians did everything they could to keep them away.
Adults have no problem allowing themselves healthy doses of guilty pleasures in their reading materials, but we don’t allow children the same freedoms. We blab on and on about the joys of reading and how reading, any reading, is good and should be encouraged but OH LORD! Don’t read that!
I always felt vaguely guilty in my AP World Lit and Comp class senior year of high school. My teacher, whom I love dearly, often made cracks at Danielle Steele and her ilk (but always mentioning Ms. Steele by name) because it’s not Literature. But I enjoy reading and I like books that aren’t Literature. I like what is commonly referred to by well-meaning adults as trash.
Even the language we use– trashy reading, guilty pleasures, makes us feel that we are somehow reading something bad. I don’t feel guilty about enjoying Gossip Girl, even though the ALA can’t even be bothered to get the name of the series correct when bemoaning it’s frequent banning.
I enjoy Literature. I read a lot of it. I sit on committees that discuss Literature for children and teens. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable when my teacher denigrated others reading choices (hoping to mold us into cultured readers, I guess) but I read what others snub their noses at and I turned out OK. In junior high and high school, I read everything Christopher Pike wrote. I read romance novels I picked up at the check-out aisle of the grocery store.
Despite the hordes of adults telling me it was bad and I was ruining myself, I turned out OK. I won an award and scholarship for most outstanding English student my senior year. I became a librarian. When kids want something fun, I hand them Christopher Pike and Gossip Girls and Nancy Drew. I tell them they’ll love it, and they will. I also hand out Newberry winners and books I read in school and say the same thing.
We need to allow kids the same reading fun we allow ourselves. We need to allow them to read fun stuff that doesn’t build character or teach a moral lesson. We need to truly believe that reading, any reading, is good and allow them to read whatever they want.