In the Break Room: Banned Books Week

Hello everyone, it’s Wednesday and we’re halfway through another week. You can do it. Almost there. Friday is so close you can almost smell Saturday’s stale beer. Delicious!

Banned Books MugFor those of you who don’t know, Monday marked the beginning of Banned Books Week. I’d thought about using my Banned Books mug to pick the book I’d be reading this week, but I decided against it once I saw the Banned Books lists.

I opted instead for reading Of Mice and Men because I’ve been meaning to get back to Steinbeck after reading and loving Tortilla Flat last year. According to this timeline, Of Mice and Men was challenged in 1991 due to language that was offensive to black people, sexual overtones, and profanity. It was termed “indecent” and subsequently banished from a few curriculums, although it has since been reinstated.

For those of you who don’t know, Of Mice and Men is a novella written by John Steinbeck. It tells the story of ranch workers who move from place to place in California looking for work during the Great Depression. Specifically, these two guys who travel together from place to place trying to make enough money to buy a piece of land where they can grow crops and have a few animals. The narrative takes place over a three day period and, interestingly, starts and ends in the same location. But whereas it starts out with hope, it ends in total heartbreak.

I was surprised at the characters in this story, they were entirely unexpected. All of them surviving day after day in unhappy realities, but held up by secret hopes and dreams. Promises they made to themselves at night, wishful thinking, daring thoughts of another reality were what gave them the strength to keep going just a little bit further. As I read I was surprised by the small glimpses of vulnerability, by the moments of compassion. Most of all, I was caught by the pervasive sense of sadness that fills the pages. Something like an old sadness that isn’t always present, but that you suddenly remember and feel, but then it passes and you go on with your day. By the time the novella ended I was crying like I’d just remembered that old sadness, but then it passed and I was alright.

Sometimes people feel threatened by books that challenge them, their ideas and beliefs. Even if we don’t go around demanding that books we censored, we sometimes censor what we read and the content we engage with. We might not do it consciously, but we steer away from books that demand more than we’re willing to give to them. At least, that’s true for me sometimes. There are times when we avoid books that make us feel sad or uncomfortable, books that remind us of our own mortality or that contradict our ideas about reality. We avoid them and, in doing so, ban them from our lives as cheesy as it sounds.

So, today and in honor of Banned Books Week, I invite you to read books that make you sad or uncomfortable, books that challenge the way you think, or maybe just a book that you would never think to pick up. I promise that, at the very least, it will be an interesting experience. Stay beautiful, readers. Until next time!

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