What Books Taught Me{A Love Letter}

Posted August 7, 2013 by Stormy in Books / 34 Comments

Sometimes people ban books. I don’t claim to be able to follow the reason of why, or how anyone can think that banning a book is a good idea. I understand that parents should be able to do with their children’s media input as they please, but schools or governments or individuals banning books? It’s a world that seems so far removed from me. This happens frequently, of course, but the thing that really prompted this post was the article about how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was being removed in a school because one mother said the book was about masturbation. (The same mother also called the book “Fifty Shades of Grey for Kids”). I haven’t read the book. I don’t know what it’s about or what topics it addresses or how, but I do know that there is a huge difference between a book including something and actually being about that thing.

But this post isn’t about that, not really. It’s just what got me thinking. Books are banned for a myriad of reasons, but one big one that comes up again and again is because these books might teach these children or teenagers something. They might teach them that homosexuality exist or that there are stronger curse words or the mechanics of sex. A myriad of things a teenager could theoretically learn, all from a book.

Well, I was a teenager not too long ago(Oh dear, I’ve become one of those people!). I’m 22. I bloomed out of my teenage stage three years ago. And there might typically be a lot of differences of maturity between a 17-year-old and a 22-year-old, but I can still remember being a teenager. I remember what I cared about, what I was afraid of, what I hoped for, and the relationships I forged. I remember what I learned it school(vaguely), what I read, and the entertainment I was into.

And you know what? The adults around me really underestimated me and other teenagers. I didn’t care all about popularity or being pretty or my friendships. That was part of my teenage experience, yes, but it wasn’t the whole of it. I had a dying mother, fluctuating friendships, and deep questions about spiritual matters. I grieved and I lost and I did the dishes because someone had to, even when my world was falling apart. The adults might have under-estimated my life, but books didn’t.

Books never taught me curse words I hadn’t already heard.

Books never taught me anything about sex I didn’t already know.

Books never taught me anything about stealing or being violent.

Books never taught me that lying was okay.

Books never taught me to question authority. I was already doing that, without any help from a paperback.

I read books where all these things happened. I read high above my grade level. I was reading 12th grade level books in the 6th grade, and with that came issues of sex and morality and big, deep questions. Maybe they were “inappropriate for my age”, but they weren’t teaching or telling me anything I didn’t already know. When I finished those books, I never thought This book taught me a new curse word or This book was pro-violence. None of those things I learned from books.

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Books did teach me friendship. They taught me that people will hurt you, friends will betray you, and that in turn, you will at some point, probably do something to betray them.

Books taught me that I was not alone in grief, that other teenagers suffered and were changed for it but didn’t have to grow up into stunted adults, and that I could bloom on the other side of this hell a better person.

Books taught me compromise and standing up for what’s right and the difference between those two and when you should stand and when it was okay to give in.

Books taught me loyalty.

Books taught me to find who I am, to embrace it fully, and to live it passionately all my life.

Books taught me to feel compassion to others, to think before judging someone’s story, and sometimes that can make the most beautiful relationship of all.

Books taught me companionship.

Books taught me imagination.

Books taught me to not let obstacles get in the way of my dreams, and sometimes to not even let reality get in the way of them either.

Books taught me how to ask deep questions.

Books let me know I wasn’t alone in my big questions about God, faith, and the deep things of the universe.

Books taught me it was okay to doubt.

Books taught me that sometimes grown-ups fail too. And more than that, books taught me this was okay and natural.

Books taught me to see other people for people.

Books taught me that I have a voice to use, and to use that voice for empowerment of myself and others rather than for oppression.

Books taught me to embrace my emotions, even the bad ones, and to feel deeply as if my life depended on it.

Books taught me that I didn’t have to try to be perfect.

Books taught me that being a teenager did not have to be a disease, that it wasn’t something to just endure so that I could get on with the rest of my life.

Books taught me that it was okay to like what I like and to have my own interests.

Books taught me it was okay to fail.

Books taught me I wasn’t the only one who was afraid.

Books taught me strength, of all kinds.

Books taught me the value of my life.

Books taught me life could be worth living.

Books taught me there could be another side, that worse things had happened to others, and they survived and so could I.

Books taught me these things. Are these really the things and teachings we want to limit? And yes, I learned these things in the same books in which sex might be depicted in some mild level of detail and in which language abounded on every page. I learned these things in the same books that were sometimes horror-filled and made me squirmed, but I endured reading them because of all the things I learned, not in spite of or for exploration of all those “tricky” subjects. I don’t want to be in a place where these messages are limited because of a line about sex or a lot of language. I want teenagers to be able to find the same things in books that I did. So again:

These things–these good things–are they really the things we want to ban? The things we want to say are not okay? I want others to know these things, to know that they are not alone, and that things can get better. And if those books in which those lessons might be contained have high levels of violence or sex, than so be it. It is worth it.

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34 responses to “What Books Taught Me{A Love Letter}

  1. This post is EXCEPTIONAL! I love all the points you made and can really relate. Like you, I was always reading above my reading level in six, seventh grade. There were things in the books that, like you say, may not have been ‘appropriate’ for me at that age, but at the same time, while in middle school, the school system had me reading about the Holocaust, parental abuse, murder; I was ‘learning’ about sex in a sex-ed class in sixth grade. The question you pose, whether it was a ‘bad’ thing to read above my intended age level such a bad thing considering what the school system had me reading (not that reading about the items they had me reading wasn’t important, but it is ‘heavy’ stuff)?

    This post has really gotten me thinking and stirring up many feelings, but in a good way!

  2. Book and a Beverage: Stormy from Book.Blog.Bake.

    […] was a really emotional post, but back when there was some book banning controversy, I wrote my What Books Taught Me Post. I didn’t want to add to the arguments going in the blogosphere — there are those who […]

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  4. I love this post so much! I don’t get why people want to ban books either. I wish people would understand that kids/teens get SO much out of books like so many of the good things you mentioned.

    “Books let me know I wasn’t alone in my big questions about God, faith, and the deep things of the universe.
    Books taught me it was okay to doubt.”

    THIS SO MUCH. I grew up in an extremely conservative town (I’m in Oklahoma and you’re in Texas, so we probably have sort of similar Bible belt areas?) and I grew up going to church and having beliefs sort of forced on me. I do believe in God, and I always have, but it was SO important for me to be able to read about people that didn’t, or people that questioned and branched out. One of the most important series I read was His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, which had so many views that were so different from my own but taught me SO, SO much.

    Plus, no examples come to mind at the moment, but compassion in books was something that I didn’t always see in real life and helped expand my way of seeing things, plus there are so many YA books that deal with judgment and looking at how others are dealing with things. There are so many things books teach us and parents don’t always seem to understand!

    • stormydawnc

      Thanks for reading & commenting! And YES to the doubt & faith and all of that. That’s what I was thinking about, really, when I wrote that line. I still, twenty-two years later, have the same faith I grew up with, but now I have a CHOICE, and I think that’s important. His Dark Materials was VERY influential in my life too. It was the first time I read anything that had even the faintest of not-religious elements, and I think it was really important for me to have ACCESS to books like those.

  5. I heart this post so much. Yes books have taught me so much and it has all been positive. They have been there for me through thick and thin and are my constant. They taught me to be open minded, a lesson I think that mother needs to learn. Does she really think that if a subject is hidden away that it doesn’t exist?

    And this line “Books taught me there could be another side, that worse things had happened to others, and they survived and so could I.” – it says it all. And shows how powerful books are and how they really can change your life.

    • stormydawnc

      Thanks Trish! Yes, I definitely agree about open-mindedness. After all, books are NOT just their content–they tell a story–and that’s important, something I’ve always valued more than whatever controversial or “negative” content those books may hold.

  6. Oh god! I agree with this post like a thousand times over! Books taught me courage, convictions, empathy, to love learning, to love experiencing new things, to think past the culture I had been raised in.

    • stormydawnc

      Exactly. Books are so much more than the perhaps “controversial”(and I use airquotes because I think books displaying most of these controversial things as a GOOD thing), they contain. They tell a complete story.

  7. Oh god! I agree with this post like a thousand times over! Books taught me courage, convictions, empathy, to love learning, to love experiencing new things, to think past the culture I had been raised in.

  8. Oh god! I agree with this post like a thousand times over! Books taught me courage, convictions, empathy, to love learning, to love experiencing new things, to think past the culture I had been raised in.

  9. WAAAHH!! I agree, why do people ban books?! They just take all that “bad” stuff out of context in books that teach people so many great things! This post makes me want to eat chocolate chip cookies because I’ve got the warm and fuzzies XD

    • stormydawnc

      Haha, thank you(even if now I really want some cookies). The taking-out-of-context thing just grates my nerves. Like, “Oh, this book has a lot of language”. SO WHAT? It’s not like kids don’t hear language all around them. It’s not like the book is just pages and pages of curse words. A book is meant to tell the STORY, not just the content.

  10. I love how heartfelt and personal this post is, Stormy! And I found myself agreeing with literally all of it as I read through each and every one of your examples. I do think that being only slightly removed from your teen years gives you a better perspective of teens; it certainly does for me. It’s not a really distant past, yet I do have knowledge and experiences now that I didn’t as a teen. And that’s fine. I just think it would be nice if adults actually remembered their teen years and own lives enough to give current teens some trust in the books they read, etc.

    • stormydawnc

      Thank you! And yes, it’s important to remember what it’s actually LIKE to be a teenager. I’m glad I’m NOT one anymore, but I feel it’s not as hard for me to reach for that perspective. Though, I never really fit in with teenagers when I WAS one, so. . .

  11. I don’t have the words for how much I love this post!! I want to print it out, draw a huge heart on it and hug it. I want to hand it out to parents, teachers and teens. I want to show it to non-readers and say “See the many things books can teach us? Do we really want to miss out on all this?”

    Beautiful post! Just beautiful.

    • stormydawnc

      Thank you! I definitely want to hand it out to certain parents & teachers too. It was definitely a very personal post–or at the least, brought up a lot of personal memories. I didn’t go into depth about anything in particular, but it still felt difficult to write, so I’m glad it made an impact. I really want to tell the people who try to ban books these things too.

  12. This is awesome. It’s posts like this that really just leave me speechless, and it sucks because I want to say something in response. I want to let you know how much I appreciated and loved what you said, and how eloquently you got your point across. I’m sorry I can’t think of more to say, but just know that I love it.

  13. Just…wow. Thank you for this. I was actually going to say I’m clapping right now, but then I read Asti’s comment and my clapping stopped (don’t want to be a copy cat!). I wish more parents understood this. I mean, they were once teenagers too. When I was in elementary and junior high, I read stories of all maturity levels. Some did include sex or violence, but that isn’t what I remember most from those books. I learned a whole variety of other crucial lessons that I wasn’t taught in school. One of these books, notably, is Forever by Judy Blume. That book has more sex in it than you can shake a stick, but that’s not what it’s entirely about. It was an honest account of high school relationships and young love, and the reality of where our paths take us. Sure, I probably learned lots of “moves” from that book that I could later apply to my love life in university, but I learned more about friendship, love, moving on and growing up. THOSE are the lessons that stuck with me.

    • stormydawnc

      Thank you, and yes, I think more adults need to understand where these books are coming from. Just because a book includes something doesn’t mean it’s ABOUT that thing, and these stories stick with us for a REASON. It’s not the sex or the violence, because we could turn on the TV and get that. It’s the heart of the stories that can mean so much to us when we’re young(and when we’re older, but at least then we don’t typically have to worry about anyone restricting our right to read). And the heart of the story is what we need.

  14. Asti (A Bookish Heart)

    This deserves a standing ovation. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Teenagers may not be completely developed in the prefrontal cortex, but it doesn’t mean they don’t think for themselves whatsoever. It’s not like reading a book will suddenly result in a teen absorbing every negative thing that is discussed and amplify it into the teen’s world. No. Teens can find all of that on their own. It’s in every movie. Every tv show. Every news program. Every life. Turn around a corner, and they’ll find it. But the great thing about books is that it tells a story. Instead of just saying how many people died or mentioning drugs, it talks about consequences and lifestyles and different perspectives. It teaches on a positive level, not a negative brainwashing level. The fact that people, especially adults, cannot see that blows my mind. Sure, you can ban a book because it INCLUDES masturbation, but a) do you really think teens don’t know what masturbation is to begin with and b) masturbation is okay and should not have such a negative stigma. And while you haven’t read TATDoaPTI, I have. And really, it just mentions it. And it’s written from a boy’s PoV. It’s fairly common for many teen boys to masturbate so it’s not worldbreaking news. People just need to get over themselves.

    Anyways, sorry for rambling. I love this post. Bravo!

    • stormydawnc

      Thank you. You hit it spot on, too. There’s NOTHING in books you can’t find in music or TV shows or movies. (Or, ya know, LIFE). I’ve heard that about TATDoaPTI too–that it’s really just a mention(which really, what’s so wrong with that? These are teen boys). But even if it wasn’t just a mentioned, there’s a whole story there, lessons to be explored, things to be learned. I think teenagers are smart enough to figure it out for themselves, honestly.
      And you’re always welcome to ramble! I know I do.

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