In banned book news, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has been taken off the shelves in a New Mexico school district due to the complaints of, seemingly, a single upset mother. The book has been on the school’s required reading list since 2004.
In a speech delivered in London, Gaiman has responded to the news with about as much equanimity and wisdom as you can expect in such a situation. Here’s what he said about adults who try to control what kids read:
I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children…
There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories.
A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st Century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.
About the banning incident specifically, he had this to say:
I tend to take books of mine being challenged and occasionally being banned – and very occasionally being burned – as a kind of badge of honour. You know you are doing something right…
And in Alamogordo, New Mexico, you know that… those kids are going to be really desperate to get their hands on Neverwhere, and I want to apologise to them all because there really aren’t lashings of sex and violence.
Banning books is stupid, for all the reasons Gaiman lists above—but in the Internet age, it’s especially foolhardy, when great authors like Neil Gaiman, Rainbow Rowell, and John Green have massive online followings and are universally beloved by their fans. The mobilization of the online literary and fan communities in support of authors and readers in such cases is practically immediate—and totally inspiring.