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Bad Books

by Matthew Arnold Stern

This was my international speech contest entry in 1994. I won my area and placed second in division with this speech. After I gave this speech in an area contest, I had the encounter with a proselytizer that I described in “Don’t Proselytize Me.” This speech was selected by the Downers Grove, Illinois South Forensic Team for speech competitions. To learn more about a new novel that might make the banned book list, check out Doria by clicking here.

Are you concerned about the types of books your children read? As a parent, I’m certainly concerned about which books my daughter will read when she gets older.

So, tonight, I’m going to talk about books. Bad books. Really bad books! These are all books that have been banned or threatened to be banned by school districts and libraries across the country. These books have been accused of polluting our young people’s minds with unsavory ideas and bad language. So, let’s take a look at these bad books.

Here’s a book that polluted my mind when I was a teenager: Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. This book has the F word in it. And, I don’t mean “foreclosure”. It also has a scene where the hero and a B-movie actress is brought to a distant planet to demonstrate human sexuality for the inhabitants. Very bad book.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s bad two ways. It’s bad from one angle because it frequently uses a disparaging term for African-Americans. It’s bad from another angle because of its disparaging view of the ante-bellum South. That makes this book doubly bad!

Here’s another one: Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor. Want to know what’s in this book? Lesbians. Two of them. Naughty, naughty.

William Shakespeare. You name it, he’s got it: suicide, homicide, patricide, matricide, regicide. Court TV has nothing on this guy. And, how about Romeo and Juliet? Remember what came after that balcony scene? Remember how the 15-year-old Romeo got snuggly in bed with the 13-year-old Juliet. Not an example we want to set for our children. Very, very bad.

But, none of these books can compare with the bad book of all time. This book has corrupted more young minds than any piece of literature in human history: The Bible. You might call it the Good Book, but in some people’s eyes, it’s very, very bad. Besides all that begatting, this book claims spiritual authorship of the Universe — a concept some consider unscientific. And, it outlines moral standards some consider archaic, irrelevant, or Eurocentric.

It’s easy to see why people would want to ban these books. These books have words, themes, and ideas that some parents don’t want their children to be exposed to.

But, these books have something else in common: They all say something important about the human condition. We might not like what they say or how they say it, but what they say is still important. This is why I believe it’s important for our young people to read them. When our children grow up, they will discover that the world is not as innocent as we would like them to believe. That is what these books show them:

  • They need to know that sometimes, we feel powerless when facing and absurdity in the world. That is what Slaughterhouse 5 shows them.
  • They need to know that when society’s values have become twisted and corrupted, they should still do the right thing. That is what Huckleberry Finn shows them.
  • They need to know that there are other people in the world with different lifestyles and experiences than they do, but they still have the same need for love, understanding, and dignity as everyone else. That is what Women of Brewster Place shows them.
  • They need to know the power and beauty of language. That is what Shakespeare shows them.
  • Finally, they need to know that after they experience all the uncertainty in life, there is a moral foundation they can depend upon. That is what the Bible shows them.

Yes, I’m concerned about what my daughter reads. That’s why when she gets older, I want her to read these books — all of these books.