Banned Books Week

Unfortunately, I am not writing this post because I have finished my second book yet. Perhaps even better, I am writing because I do have good news that I just had to share. News that couldn’t have come at a better time considering that this week is Banned Books Week.

I was reading through my publishing newsletters that I get at work yesterday when I read something that made my heart jump with happiness in Shelf Awareness. The Randolph County Board of Education in North Carolina decided to take back it’s ban on INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison. Just ten days ago, they joined many other school districts when they decided to the ban the book. That decision sparked much uproar with the public and civil rights unions which forced the board to re-think their decision, giving them a chance to correct their mistake. I am not only happy about this because I am a big fan of Ralph Ellison but because I believe that any type of restriction on education is unjust.

First, INVISIBLE MAN is a really good book and I don’t like the idea of other people missing out on that. Ellison was an incredibly gifted writer who’s talent should be widely shared. Just because you may not agree with something or someone, or just because you don’t want to talk or think about certain things, doesn’t mean that you should reduce it’s value or quality. Many aspiring writers or literature experts (librarians, professors, book reviewers) could learn a lot from reading Ellison. His craftsmanship and style are unique to his time period, an essential part of growing up in the early 20th century. His success at making scenes come a live, making characters a reality, and jamming pages full of being into just a few sentences is aspiring. To better yourself as a writer, reader, or critic- you need to read Ellison.

Second, and most importantly, is that like all the other books on the banned books list INVISIBLE MAN is an integral part of history and education. I have learned way more about history through my literature classes than I ever did in any actual history class I have taken. Many writers write from their own experiences and stories they heard. They write from emotion and with a deeper understanding of reality. Being able to spit out dates of battle, names of movements, or important historical figures is great. But what about what it was like to live a normal everyday life during that given time period? What were people like you and me going through? Literature has your answer.

I’m not really sure what there isn’t to like about INVISIBLE MAN or what’s so offensive. It’s a story about accepting yourself for who you are even when it seems like the rest of the world is against you. It’s about standing up for yourself and for what you believe in. It certainly isn’t a pretty story or something you would want to talk to a five-year-old about. But, it is a part of our history that cannot be ignored. The everyday struggles that minorities continue to go through in this country shouldn’t be suppressed. I don’t care what your opinion is- the fact is that everything INVISIBLE MAN stands for was our world’s reality, and its still very much our reality today in many of the same and different ways. Why would we want to forbid our children from learning this? Yes, we can read our boring textbooks about court case after court case, injustice after injustice but what about reading from people that actually experienced these very injustices and overcame these very struggles? I promise you that nothing will resonate more. Even if the story itself is not true- the values, struggles, obstacles, and emotions are. It really breaks my heart to know that there are many students out there who aren’t getting this priceless experience. Books like these have greatly changed my outlook on life and exposed me to a world beyond my very own small personal bubble. Books like these have taken my education to a level I could have never imagined when I first stepped foot on my Alma Mater’s campus and I am glad a few more students will now get to have that same experience.

HOME is where the heart is…. Toni Morrison

Yes, it has been over a year (yikes!) since I have graduated from college. And yes- I have only read one book (don’t worry- I’m working on the second). But, I’m not ashamed. We don’t always meet the goals that we set for ourselves, that’s what goals are for. What really matters is how we evolve and change from our failures, what we learn. What have I learned from this one book? I was reminded why I read. Reading allows you to escape to another universe where nothing else matters but the pages in front of you. You can picture places and characters the way you want to. You can hear the characters voices, personalities, and demeanors the way you want to hear them. Reading is rewarding, it gives off a sense of accomplishment. Like you are somehow smarter than you were before. Most importantly, I was also reminded that Toni Morrison is freaking awesome.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the first book I choose to read was HOME by Toni Morrison. Feeling a little nostalgic about my college years and missing its security, beauty, and friends- Toni Morrison was just the perfect fit. I have become somewhat of an African-American lit junkie, if you will. During my freshman year I took an Introduction to Literature class where the professor focused mostly on apartheid literature, this completely sparked my interest. I went on to take a Richard Wright class in which we read many books by Wright, Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin among many others. Venturing further into this literary circle I took an African American Literature course my senior year where we read Ralph Ellison, Anne Petry, more Wright, and more Morrison. I had become completely immersed and I loved every second of it. Hence, my choice of HOME.

Morrison definitely did not disappoint (does she ever?). HOME is about a young Veteran, named Frank Money, who just returned from the Korean War. Frank had a far from easy life. His family was very poor, lived in a depressing town in which Frank described as, “the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.” All his parents ever did was work for practically nothing, leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves mostly always starving. Both parents died at a very young age, making Frank feel more alone and more without a real home. The book opens with Frank in the hospital when he receives a letter that his sister, Cee, is in trouble and if he doesn’t come now she will most likely die. Cee had always been dependent on Frank, she never had anyone else she could turn to. He needed her, so he was going to be there. The book tracks Frank’s journey to find his sister, the revelations he makes along the way and just as important, the revelations that Cee makes herself without her brother there to hold her hand.

What I love most about Morrison is that she puts so much meaning into her books with so few words. I could type on and on for days and I still wouldn’t be able to say half of what Morrison could in a couple hundred pages, let alone so gracefully and resonating. I could sit here all night and list off meaning after meaning of each character, object, and place in this book. But, for everyone’s sake (including my own) I won’t. My first reaction is to talk about the character of Frank Money and his journey to find his manhood, purpose, sense of self, and “home”. After all, I did write many of my college papers on manhood- its challenges, meaning, and the struggles that many African American male characters seem to face on their journey to becoming a “man” and feeling worth something. But thats not what sticks out to me with this book. Instead, I am fascinated by the character of Cee.

Cee’s experience working for the doctor is horrible, gruesome, and definitely beyond anything I could ever imagine. But, in a sense- it set her free. Being young, black, and a woman were all disadvantages Cee had to learn to deal with her entire life. These characteristics made her feel insecure, worthless, and incompetent. Cee felt like she was only there to serve others because that’s all she ever knew. Miss Ethel, Cee’s nurse after the horrific events at the doctor’s, opened Cee’s eyes up to a whole other world. A world where she was her own person. A world in which she decided her own fate and what she did or didn’t do. She doesn’t need to listen to what anyone else tells her- she has her own brain with her own thoughts, dreams, and desires.

The turning point of Cee’s journey is when Miss Ethel tells her, “You young and a woman, and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.” These few sentences really jumped out at me, left me staring at the page for a few moments longer than the rest. Although Cee wasn’t physically a slave to anyone, she certainly was mentally. She let other people decide her worth, her destiny, her life. In this moment, Cee decided she was worth something, “I ain’t going nowhere, Miss Ethel. This is where I belong.” Cee doesn’t want to die, especially from the doings of an evil, heartless man. She wants to stay here on Earth with her people, friends, family and fight. She wants to put her own mark on the world as Cee, not as another helpless patient who succumbed to the dominant forces around her.

If you couldn’t tell already, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. I warn you, don’t expect a happy story with pretty butterflies and flowers. But what you will get is hope, empowerment, and a sense of pride. Nothing can hold me back after reading this book. I feel like I can accomplish anything right now because I’m my own person. I have my own hopes and aspirations and I am the only person who can control them.

Whew- I feel like I am sitting back in one of my college classrooms and I couldn’t thank Morrison, my readers, or this blog enough for that. Lesson Learned.

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