Banned Books Week is upon us once again.
I’m a fraud.
I’d always told myself that I loved Banned Books Week because I believe in freedom from censorship. And while there may be some truth to that, if I’m being truly honest, I love Banned Books Week because it gives me an excuse to read a lot of great and slightly edgy literature, and feel like I’m rebelling against society.
And it’s easy to do.
It’s easy to oppose censorship when you’re reading about Randle McMurphy standing up to Nurse Ratched. It’s easy to demand freedom of thought when you’re walking side by side Jerry Renault, refusing to sell the chocolates. It’s easy to support free speech when that speech comes from the like of Twain and Dahl and Vonnegut and Blume and Steinbeck.
Anybody can enjoy Banned Books Week if you only read the good books.
But free speech isn’t about merit. It isn’t something you can earn by having the right philosophy or elegant writing style. Everyone deserves the right to speak, read, and write without censorship, even (or perhaps especially) the unorthodox, the unpopular, and the just plain stupid.
And so, in part as a symbol, and in part to remind myself of this, I’m about to do something I really don’t want to do.
I’m going to read a book.
A book I despise.
I’m going to read the book that I have mocked, ridiculed, derided, and lambasted more than any other, including on this blog.
I’m going to read the book that I have declared should be burned en masse, that the smoke from the pyres might serve as a warning to terrible writers everywhere.
I’m going to read Fifty Shades of Grey.
I felt like Guy Montag, as I smuggled it out of my library last week, sandwiched between copies of Catch-22 and Lolita, terrified that someone would discover me with this contraband. When I got home, I flipped it open to read a random sentence, hoping against hope that it was not as bad as I feared.
“‘I want to bite this lip,’ he murmurs against my mouth, and carefully he tugs at it with his teeth.”
Dear God, it’s worse.
But I will do this. Because nobody should be censored. You may mock them, you may disagree with them, you may despise them, but you must let them speak; you must let them write. Freedom of speech protects even travesties like this one.
Of course, it also protects my criticisms of said travesties. And I will have so many…
Stay tuned this week for the grisly highlights reel, as well as some better banned books you could be spending some quality time with!