5. The Right to Read Anything
Setting: A library built in 1863 placed right in the middle of the school campus for maximum access. A boy turns up in search of a book.
Boy: “I need a good book to read…”
Librarian: “You have come to the right place then!”
Boy: “Yeah. But I need a good book to read.”
Librarian: ” So what do you mean by a good book?”
Boy: “You know…”
Librarian slowly shakes her head.
Boy is forced to expand: “One that is written by a good author, you know, has a good review…awards…is written well.”
Librarian: “Oh! One of those kinds of books. You really have come to the right place as ALL our books are good books…”
Boy looks puzzled and doesn’t really trust that comment.
Yet it is true. We pride ourselves in only selecting literature that is well written for our boys to read. It is a form of censorship that we feel justified in – we want them to be able to pick up any book off a shelf – sometimes the floor – in the knowledge that the writing is of a good quality and the content is appropriate.
There are ‘bad’ books; mass produced, poorly edited, and boring. As Pennac says;
The fact of the matter is there are good novels and bad ones. Names can be named, and evidence given…there is a literature of quick fixes and cheap thrills cast in a mould and trying to make us fit that mould.
Writers are free to write what they want to, we are free to read what we want to. The library chooses to stock what it want to – and it is not bad books. We have one ‘bad’ book in my opinion and a boy asked us to order it and because the student in question was from India – we did.
Paul Henry – What was I thinking.