Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Voices - by Ursula K. Le Guin

I had been told that I would probably like Ursula K. Le Guin's books, so when I saw this one on the list of books Celebrating a Love of Reading: 20 Mighty Girl Books about Books, Libraries, and Literacy it seemed the time was right to read one. This is the story of Memer, who lives in Ansul, a city occupied by the Alds where books and reading are forbidden, and girls and women must stay indoors. Before she died, Memer's mother showed her a secret room in the house of Galvamand where books were kept, and Memer learned the special writing in the air she needed to do in order to open the door to the room. Although she could not read Memer found solace in the room and believed she was the only one in the house who knew about it. That is until the day when she is startled to find Sulter Galva, the Waylord of the house, in the room when she arrives. The Waylord teaches her to read and admonishes her to tell no one of the room. Punishment for reading or owning books in Ansul is death by drowning. Memer loves to read the stories and poetry found within the pages of the books, but as a young adult learns that the books in the dark shadowy side of the room, the side to which she never ventured, held the secrets of the oracles. The Waylord explains to Memer that he believed he was protecting her by not introducing those books to her, but goes on "In my cowardice...  I told myself it was unnecessary to speak of it to you. The time of oracles was past. It was an old story that was no longer true..."

This scene demonstrates a more subtle form of censorship than the outright book banning practiced by the Alds, and certainly the more common form. In fact, it is something we have probably all experienced, and participated in, from the books that our parents chose to read to us, to what we found in our school libraries, to what we then chose to read to our own children, and placed in their libraries. Protection is usually the underlying reason for these decisions, but as the Waylord realizes, each person must ultimately make their own meaning from books and be provided the opportunity to do so. Memer not only learns to read, she becomes a critical thinker as well.

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