“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury
There’s a mother in Tennessee who is trying to get her son’s school district to ban Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She believes it contains pornographic content, referring to gynecological procedures covered in the book.
After reading the headline, my first impulse was to come through the screen, kicking and screaming, “Noooooooooooooooo!”
I wanted to react with anger and self-righteousness around the sacred nature of books and reading.
Even more, I wanted to know more about the woman behind this modern-day book burning campaign. My first impulse was to dig into her social history the way we do when we want define just how different we are from the person who pissed us off.
What did her Facebook profile pic look like? Was her feed an endless stream of bible quote memes? Did she “like” Sarah Palin all the way back in 2008? Where did she go to school? What did she do for a living?
What books would she recommend?
This mom is wrong. Banning books for an entire community is never the right thing to do. Ever. I could scribe a 10,000 word thesis on all the ways this mom is wrong about this book.
But she’s also a mom – and aren’t we all (or, at least most of us) trying to do our best?
Since my original reaction to reading about this mother’s intentions, I’ve retreated. Her problem isn’t that she doesn’t want her kid to read this book, her problem is she wants to apply her own parenting to everyone else’s kid.
Who knows her history or what experiences have shaped her choices as a mom. If she wants her child not to read Skloot’s award-winning work, then fine. I disagree, but I’m not going to tell her she has to make her kid read it.
When I first started blogging, my daughter had just turned four – the very day, and I was not yet pregnant with my son. Mommy bloggers were already in full force, but I had no intention of joining that niche. I didn’t want my kids, or my parenting to be the spring board from which I wrote.
I didn’t want to put stories out there defending whatever parenting decisions I made, or claiming to know how other parents should do their thing.
I’m a lot more lax than most when it comes to what I censor for my kids. There are a few Disney shows I’ve nixed simply because I’m annoyed with the writing – and the constant stream of mean girls as necessary characters.
I also ix-nayed Dance Moms because even in my shiniest of motherhood moments I turn into Mommy-McJudge-ey when I see television shows depicting grown women as Nellie Oleson characters.
My kids have yet to bring me a book that I’ve said no to.
Every single day I find something new to worry about as a parent. Am I feeding them too much sugar? Are we saving enough for college? Are they too privileged? Do they have too many things? Do they receive too little encouragement? Am I too hard on them? At what age are they going to ask me to go to therapy with them because of all the times I lost my shit and yelled like a crazy man standing on the corner preaching to nobody in particular?
Clearly, I have too many worries my own motherhood plate to be concerned about what other mothers are serving their kids. And throwing mud on another woman because she doesn’t want her son to read a book makes me as much of a Nellie Oleson as those women screaming at each other about dance recitals.
I hope, eventually, her son gets a chance to read Skloot’s book – or, at the very least, listen to this RadioLab interview with Rebecca Skloot retelling the amazing story of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells.
For now, I’m going ahead and purchasing two more copies of the book for each of my kids. They’re both a few years from understanding its content, but at least it will be on their bookshelf when the time comes.