Like many naïve, aspiring writers, I used to think that the greatest honor that I could achieve as a writer would be for my book to become a best-seller. The best-seller list, at least to my high school mind, represented coming close to writing the “great American novel.” If it was a best-seller, it had a better chance of being a classic.
Well, with things like Fifty Shades of Grey gracing the best-seller lists now, I’m no longer so convinced of the magical significance of making that list. It no longer represents the “great literature” of the day (if it ever did) and now represents more of a hodge-podge of people riding a trending wave or selling a well-known name to cover the no-name, no-talent ghost writers that took over the name years ago (Hint: if you see a big name like Robert Ludlum accompanied by “with” and another name, you can bet your mortgage that it was ghost written).
However, there is one list that consistently has books I admire, both for writing finesse and content—the banned book list. Of course, that list also shares space with things like Twilight which is only slightly less appalling than Fifty Shades and slightly more honorable as the original trash instead of the fan-fiction retelling, but I’m willing to overlook the bad writing because the reason it made the banned book list wasn’t because it was atrociously written. As nice as it might sound to ban books for bad craftsmanship, the reason they are banned is because the content ruffles the feathers of those who like to control people’s minds.
I don’t like what Stephanie Meyer has to say in her books. I don’t care for the unhealthy romantic models she presents. But I like censorship much less. Therefore, you will see her books lining my bookshelves as a matter of principle. At least, that’s what I tell myself to avoid the buyer’s remorse of having bought the entire series before finishing them.
But let’s not degrade banned book week with any more talk about that. On with what I was saying!
I admire the list of banned books. It ranges from picture books like Green Eggs and Ham or It’s a Book to favorite novels like The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games to informational and philosophical books like the dictionary, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. Some of the most socially important books of the previous decades have been on that list from the time they were published until now, and many of my new favorites find their way there at some point or another.
These are books that have social significance, some simply because they get people talking about things they are uncomfortable with (seriously people, you can’t erase the existence of sex by banning books that mention it), many others because they dare to point out social flaws and concerns.
These are books that are timeless if only because they stand as beacons in the ongoing fight to protect freedoms that are more fragile, yet stronger than any of us can fully understand until we are up against the moment of choosing to fight for them.
These are books that speak of the courage to say what you believe, even when that threatens to render you an outcast, or worse.
And if I were to write anything that got noticed, the greatest honor that I could be given outside of the honor of already having told my story to myself is to find my book on the banned book list. Then I’d know that I said something significant enough to scare those who live by the politics of fear and enduring enough to be read by future generations. But more importantly, it would mean that speaking my truth was more important to me than all the fame, praise, and fortune that society could offer—because honoring my voice is really the only worthwhile reason for writing anyway.