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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Banned books stir up trouble, enrich our lives

With few exceptions, the book is better than the movie. As an avid reader, this doesn’t keep me from watching most movies made from the foundations of books I’ve read. Whether they stick closely to the tome or deviate into alternate endings, I love movies.

The sensory overload of the big screen is enjoyable. If you already know the story, it’s another connection to beloved characters, even if they look nothing like the image conjured while reading. After the credits roll, it’s also fun to discuss how well the screen writers converted a novel’s worth of character development, drama, emotion and plot twists into a couple of hours.

But this month I’m skipping the much-debated Valentine blockbuster. I read the book for the same reason people look up when someone points at the sky: curiosity. If the book was better, the movie isn’t where I’d spend time or money.

But I won’t belabor that here. Enough colorful commentary has been written in black-and-white arguments about the “Shades of Grey” trilogy.

Instead, I offer an entertainment alternative. Read a novel from the American Library Association’s lists of banned books.

You’ll find characters to care about and plots that pull you in, engaging your emotions. You’ll also find themes worth discussing over dinner.

A couple of years ago I added the top 100 banned and challenged books to my “to read” list, occasionally requesting one from my local library. Though an occasional sensational best-seller lands on the list, based on what I’ve read so far, it’s an eclectic mix of well-written works that have one thing in common: censorship.

The list’s literature has all hit a nerve with those who want to control and sanitize access to controversial content.

In a country that values free speech, artistic expression and education, they’ve been sporadically censored in some schools or communities where well-meaning parental protectiveness has gone overboard.

Classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” linger on the list alongside books by Judy Bloom, Toni Morrison and Spokane’s own Chris Crutcher and Sherman Alexie.

When reading from the banned books list, I’ve found well-written words that spark my imagination and make me think more deeply about an issue or experience. I’ve also found many books worth recommending to my teenagers.

These aren’t sugar-coated stories or poorly crafted prose created to make money. They’re often tales that delve into difficult dilemmas, with real pain and struggle portrayed in a fictional world where the protagonist may not live happily ever after but almost always grows in the face of hardship.

The real world isn’t sugar-coated either. It’s populated with pain and hardship. Censorship that aims to protect against the adversity or ugliness in life may merely undermine our ability to face it head-on and overcome. That’s why books that deal with difficult subjects should be read and discussed.

They’re an entertaining way to safely and vicariously experience the perseverance, grace, beauty or humor that can still be found during the darkest days.

Jill Barville writes in this space twice a month about families, life and everything else. She can be reached at
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