One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, was interviewed recently in The Guardian, where he was asked (among other questions), “Do you remember reading any books as a child that were in some way disapproved of or forbidden? If yes, did they traumatise you for life, or did the subversive element make them more enjoyable?”
His response was,
“I was really lucky in that my parents definitely didn’t seem to have any kind of rules about what I couldn’t read. And that was wonderful, because it meant that whatever was on the shelves, if it was interesting, I could pick it up and I was allowed to read it.
“I seem to have done just fine. Although there were definitely stories that I would bump into that I would find disturbing. I remember being disturbed by a Charles Birkin short story called the Harlem Horror, a weird little horror story that I probably ran into when I was seven or eight and I really wasn’t ready for it. But, mostly, I read whatever was around and learned whatever I could from whatever I could find.”
I was one of those readers, and as soon as I could walk to my small town’s library on my own, I did. I was a “reading above your grade level” kind of kid, too, so I moved through the shelves of children’s books pretty quickly and in to the adult section. Admittedly, I sometimes read books that were way too old for me, and that I didn’t always understand (although I’d skim some of those parts). But the nice thing was, if a story was too scary, I could always close the book, look around me, and realize I was okay. Books allowed me to experience lives of different kinds of people, in different places (and even explore new worlds).
Banned Books Week can be a good time to reflect upon our own reading habits as a child (for better or for worse), as well as how those books have shaped us.