The Sunday Salon: Age (In)Appropriate

I must have been about thirteen and we must have been in California. My family was on vacation, which meant I was functionally dead to the world, trying to make myself small enough that I could continue reading and forget how brutally and physically homesick I was. We were eating in a restaurant, outside; all that clear, strong California sun shining down on us. Had I noticed, I probably would have hated the heat for being too dry (and not tangibly and thickly humid), but I was wrapped up in a copy of Lit Riffs.

Like most children, I knew exactly what I could get away with each parent: if I wanted something, I had to ask Dad, not Mom. A few days earlier in a dark, almost perfectly square bookstore, I had silently presented the yellow tome to my father, who purchased it for me. As my parents and my brother ate, I steadfastly read, until my bladder summoned me to my feet. I placed Lit Riffs pages down on the wooden table and excused myself, wriggling out of the booth like an awkward fish.

Taverna Table

When I came back, my brother had Lit Riffs accusingly in hand, and my parents were looking at me. I inwardly grimaced. I had attracted attention. The first story in the book in my brother’s hands was based on “Maggie May”, a song about a young, possible teenage, man having a sexual relationship with an older woman. It was sexually explicit, but not as much as some of the other stories. It was the first book I’d ever read that proposed anything resembling Roland Barthes’ concept of the death of the author.

“You can’t read this,” my mother said, plucking the book from my brother’s unbelieving hands and making it vanish. She made it vanish so thoroughly that I’ve never found it in the sprawling monster that is my parents’ library, with its tentacles in the basement, the garage, my mother’s office, and the master bedroom. Perhaps she made my father return it before we left town. I hope she didn’t throw it away.

I remember this incident more clearly than most of my childhood vacations because it was the first time I was told that I could not read something because I was too young for it.

Of course, this didn’t stop me one whit. As soon as we returned home and I could stand upright, I silently slipped a copy of American Gods into my mother’s hands at our local Books-a-Million.

As a kid, I may not have known that people could wear different shoes everyday, but I did know that, as a reader, I was entitled to read anything I could get my hands on. Who was going to stop me? The book I read and reread the most as a kid wasn’t Little Women, but the alarmingly misogynistic and homophobic 1961 self-help manual Understanding Other People, scavenged from my parents’ library. I may have been limited by my age, gender, and extraordinarily poor social skills, but, in books, the world was my oyster.

Banned Books Week 2011

So whenever I hear discussion over what books are appropriate for what age, my eyes sort of glaze over and I can only think of banned books. Obviously, every parent is different, and their choices as parents should be respected. But, in the same vein, every child is different. I can’t speak to any individual situation save my own and, for me, running rampant through bookstores and libraries gave me an agency and a freedom I lacked in the rest of my young life. Appropriate, inappropriate… what did it matter what labels people assigned my reading material? I had chosen it. It was mine. I just want every kid to feel that kind of ownership over something.

How is it already June? I have so much reading to do! I have the best workload ever at the moment, between book blogging and the advance homework for my publishing program. I got through How to Suppress Women’s Writing, The Elements of Style, The Whole Fromage, Top of the Rock, and several Bond films. I’ve only two to go, although I do plan on watching Skyfall again. But the Bondathon won’t be completed here on the blog until the end of the year. Bless those scheduled posts.

This week’s links:

What do you make of the concept of age appropriate books?

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Age (In)Appropriate

  1. I think there is such a thing as age-appropriate books, but I also think sensible kids can self-police. When I read books that were too “old” for me (and as you say, it’s down to the individual kid; it can’t be applied across the spectrum), I felt uncomfortable and unhappy and confused, and most of the time I just stopped reading those books and returned them to the library.

    The one time I can remember my mother stopping me from reading a book was The Color Purple when I was thirteen; and her case was that I’d like it more if I waited a year or two before reading it. Which I think was probably perfectly true.

  2. My mother didn’t censor my reading, though in later years she wondered if perhaps she should have, I think. But I read any books I found, and tested out as a college level reader by fifth grade, so there ya go. On the other hand mom did find an issue of Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan I had foolishly left where she could see it and she said, “Charles this is full of half naked women and people having their heads cut off!” But she didn’t confiscate it and I made sure to keep SSoC at the bottom of my comics collection after that.

  3. “But, in the same vein, every child is different. I can’t speak to any individual situation save my own and, for me, running rampant through bookstores and libraries gave me an agency and a freedom I lacked in the rest of my young life. Appropriate, inappropriate… what did it matter what labels people assigned my reading material? I had chosen it. It was mine. I just want every kid to feel that kind of ownership over something.”

    Yes. I love this❤ I also agree with Jenny that kids know their own limits well and are good at self-censoring when necessary.

    I love the commentary to that tumblr comic too. All the stories about all the ladies all the time is also my solution to everything.

  4. I agree with Jenny! Also the weirdest thing I remember my mom forbidding me to read was a biography of Leonardo DiCaprio. This was in the early 2000s and I’ve never found the book again, so I still don’t know wtf was so bad about it. (Mom can’t remember, either.)

  5. I hate barriers to literature. There shouldn’t be social restrictions like that. No child should be told they aren’t ready to read something they’re truly interested in. No one should be told a book is beneath them or above them.

    We should just read. Guidance is fine, so long as reading continues.

    Also, love the links this week. Informative and fun.

  6. I remember climbing my mom’s bookshelves to reach the top shelves, and reading whatever caught my fancy.
    Sometimes I found something that confused me, and I put the book down. But I was never really traumatized by any book… except for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which is a children’s book! The pictures… *shudder*
    I was far safer with Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, and Alan Dead Foster.

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