When I first began writing for The City Voice – more than two years ago now – the place where I first found a passion for writing and journalism was the book review column. I wrote The City Voice’s first book review, an admittedly disorganized collection of sci-fi and fantasy YA novels that had caught my attention, and that was it. I was hooked. Book reviews aren’t my thing anymore, I drifted away from the column as I discovered more about technology, science, and current events writing, but I will always remember how wonderful it was to share the fictional worlds I had such fun exploring with the real world, to connect with friends and sometimes people I didn’t even know over the adventures of mutual acquaintances who never existed.
Yet books aren’t just for having fun, are they? The author Ursula K. Le Guin, arguably one of the founders of modern science fiction and fantasy, once wrote, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… [it] is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” Literature, and more directly imagination, is the human mechanism for doing exactly what made me fall in love with reading in the first place: finding connection. Whether it be through connecting with a fellow reader, or an author, or even a character, books give us perspectives we might never see otherwise.
That’s why this week The City Voice is introducing a new book review column called Banned, where Maya and I, and any other author interested in contributing, will be reviewing books on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged young adult novels. Some of the books we review here will be good, and some won’t. Some will be taught in City English classes, and some won’t. Some will be appropriate for all ages, and some won’t be. We’re going to review them anyway, because we believe that challenging ideas are the heart of democracy and diversity, and that even harmful perspectives should be read so that they may be challenged with understanding. That will be our mission in this column: understanding the books, their opponents, their authors, and perhaps most importantly their characters and perspectives. Because what Le Guin was able to so eloquently describe is that reading lets us be who we are not, and who we might be, and I firmly believe that reading books, especially banned ones, can make us all more capable of compassion.