I Choose To Read

Sep 29, 2008

Posted by: John Admin


It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
(p 358 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Bloomsbury paperback)

Happy Banned Books Week!

I’ve got to admit that, living so far away from the USA, I don’t quite know how this whole deal works, and I don’t know what Dumbledore would say about that. However, I was born in a country, which at the time was still part of the Soviet Union. Banning anything potentially “dangerous” or simply disagreeing with the ideas the government was promoting had been a part of the policy for many years. Thankfully, the country regained freedom and independence soon after I was born and I haven’t actually got to experience it. But the “memory” of it all still lives. And I was shocked to learn that banning was still happening somewhere in the free world. I couldn’t believe it until I saw the actual lists of books and the reasons some people wanted them taken away from the libraries.

It’s definitely strange to see some books I learnt a lot from and greatly enjoy in those lists. Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Selinger), Slaughterhouse Five (K. Vonnegut), Fahrenheit 451 (R. Bradbury) Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), of course, and some others. And I discovered most of them while wandering among the shelves in my favourite libraries.

I realise that some parents might be concerned about their kids reading certain books, but if those are taken away from the libraries altogether, everyone else is deprived from their freedom to read ’ what if other parents would like their children to read Huckleberry Finn or Harry Potter, but don’t have enough money to buy books? Or what if they just want their kids to be able to just go to a library and learn everything about the world that books have to offer? Or what if a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old growing up in a remote town has very few ways to learn what people from all over the world write and think and library is one of the places where they can do that? Or anything like that?

A Clockwork Orange (A. Burgess) is one of my favourite books. And I certainly see why some parents would want to keep their kids from reading it. It’s not a nice book, but so are many other things in this world as well. It’s full of extreme violence, nasty language and it, to say the least, disturbed me when I, being well into my teenage years, started reading it for the first time.

It’s amazing and sometimes terrible what people who have free will and freedom to choose can do and what people it turns them into. The point here (and in the book, I think) is that those free-will choices is what makes a person be the person they are.

Naturally, some people are going to make some lousy choices and some people are going to screw up their freedom to choose. That might harm other people as well. And that’s when all the pondering about what should be done to the people who choose to harm others starts. It’s complicated and I certainly don’t have an answer as well. Perhaps it would help if they included a class on making right choices in the curriculum? But, again, some students would be bound to choose to ignore it. It seems that there’s no escaping the circle.

However, in A Clockwork Orange, people who have the “authority” try to break the circle ’ by taking away people’s free will. And it turns out that by taking away someone’s ability to make choices you’re also taking away their ability to choose what music, food, activities and other things they like, hate or don’t approve and everything like that. What’s then left of a person? Not much, I’d say.

I understand that parents want to protect their children. And if some of them think that they can achieve that by keeping the kids from reading certain books, I’ve got no problem with it. But things like violence and nasty language aren’t confined to the books. They’re in television, computer games, the streets the kids pass on their way to school. I suppose, parents can try to protect their children from those as well. But they can’t do it forever, can they? Children have to grow up and start living in the world by themselves at some point. And they won’t be able to adjust, if they don’t know it. I think, learning from books is far safer than leaving your kid out in the street. If some parents choose to protect their children from certain things, they can do so, but, if other parents want their kids be introduced to those same things, they have the right to do that as well.

Keeping my right to choose, thanks,


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.