Last week was Banned Books Week and a good time to reflect on how the tiniest of offended sensibilities turn people into moralistic monsters that believe they are saving humanity by plucking The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the shelf. All sorts of nonsense happens when people get in it in their heads that they are doing something “for the children.” Last week we got to revolt against the high-minded book-banning enemy, fly our freak flags, and advocate for the younger versions of our weird little selves. Let kids read what they want, we rallied!
Why did the Riverside Unified School District ban The Fault in Our Stars? They claimed it was because they didn’t want “kids dealing with their own mortality” but we all know it was about the sex. Everything is always about sex. And in this case it’s pretty ridiculous, considering that the sex in the book is just a do-you-want-to-yes-okay-now-fade-into-black-next-chapter-it’s-morning-and-look-at-the-beautiful-sun-do-I-look-different?
It came to me today that there actually are some books that might not be super cool for highly impressionable 10 year-olds. There might be some things that are better left for an older, wiser reader who has already, let’s say, figured out that her math teacher was a pervert when he reached out and caressed her bare leg as she stood next to his desk collecting her homework assignment. We can’t stop children from being introduced to the evils of the world, but some things can maybe just be introduced a bit later. There are at least five things I think we probably shouldn’t let 10 year-olds read:
The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker
This is a story of a man who has the power to stop time, however instead of exercising great responsibility and using his power for good he mostly just freezes time and undresses women. Out of nowhere, there’s also an extended garden scene involving sex between a teenage boy and an older woman, and also the boy’s teenage girlfriend who happens to stop by in the middle of it. (Warning: contains details about defecation during sex.)
Sweet Valley High, the entire series by Francine Pascal
There’s nothing at all that is graphic or violent or sexual in these books; they’re just really sucky. The series follows two identical twins and each book in the series starts with a line about how their eyes are as blue as the Pacific Ocean, they have flawless tans and heart-shaped faces, and they are both the perfect six 6. Every single book you are reminded of how beautiful/awesome these twins are right away, as if you could forget. The twins face just about zero adversity and go through a million cliché “lesson learned!” adventures that make you feel horrible about living life, e.g., characters are comatose from car accidents that involve one beer. There are also instructional story lines about how you should make fun of nerds because you might find out the nerd is actually a super rich prince or something. (However, if the nerd is just a nerd then everything is fair game for that loser. I’m looking at you, Winston Egbert.)
Antique Book About the Wild West
I can’t be more specific about the title of this book because my brain has protectively banned the cover from my memory. When I was 8 years old, I loved reading about the Wild West and my parents gave me this old book they found at a flea market. I learned that folks used to publicly display the bodies of outlaws upon their (usually violent) deaths. They’d even pose them for pictures, propping them up full of bullets and oozing blood and standing next to the bodies proudly. I know all about this practice because my book had pages and pages and pages of dead outlaw photographs, with multiple photos on a page, lined up like mugshots. I was a weird enough little kid that I looked at each and every one very closely, disgusted and also fascinated. I regretted it. Yes. I regretted it.
Books Based On Movies
I love it when a good book gets adapted for the screen, but the opposite also happens and it is horrible and should be stopped. In 1995, Columbia Pictures released First Knight into theaters. It was a retelling of the Arthurian Legend, with Richard Gere as Lancelot, Sean Connery as Arthur, and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. Around the same time some joke of a person decided to adapt the screenplay of First Knight into a novel, as if it was somehow necessary! As if the story of Arthur and his Round Table had not yet been told in literature! And unfortunately young, naïve me walked into Waldenbooks at the mall and bought it, wasting approximately 3 ½ hours of my young life. Sometimes kids love movies and don’t know how to pick out good books, and those kids need to be protected from bad novels adapted from bad screenplays.
Abraham Lincoln: Fuck Lord of the Moon by Catherine DeVore
Actually, this is the final book in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Fuck Saga and it would be safe to say that all of the books in the saga deserve to be on this list. (This one has the best title, though.) The author herself advises “adults only.” I think the description speaks for itself: “At long last, Abraham Lincoln is ready to face his greatest enemy: Emperor Komei of Japan. After years of ninja training, will America’s greatest president–who also happens to be the Earth’s greatest master of the sexual arts–be able to defeat his nemesis and claim the Moon as his own? Find out in the thrilling conclusion of the Presidential Fuck Saga!”
The list probably shouldn’t end here, but then again there is something to be said for letting life happen as it happens. I’ve heard at least two successful authors mention The Godfather when asked about the books that had the most influence on them as writers. One of them admitted that it was Mario Puzo’s description of the hot sex between Sonny Corleone and one of the bridesmaids at his sister’s wedding that really got him jazzed about writing; he used to hide the book from his parents so they wouldn’t know he was reading it.
Think about the books that had an impact on you when you were young. Isn’t there at least one among them that you probably should not have read? If I’m honest, I can admit that I fucking loved Sweet Valley High. I loved those terrible books so much I even read my way through Sweet Valley University. They added nothing to my life in any way whatsoever, but I wasted money buying them and time reading them.
So what are yours? What book or books do you think you probably shouldn’t have read way back when? Do you wish someone had stopped you? Let us know in the comments below!