Banned books in the modern day? Uh – Generation X would like a word

Gen X banned books

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Generation X had no filter

In the face of an increasing number of banned books throughout the US, there is one generation — Gen X — that has something to say about the matter.

As the famed latchkey generation, one that was largely left to our own devices for much of our childhoods, we have first-hand experience with reading a LOT of age-inappropriate books.

I have a vivid memory of my own personal book banning. (Spoiler alert: The banning thing? It doesn’t work.) For some reason when I was a young teenager, my mom did not want me to read ‘Carrie.’

This was in spite of the fact that I’d read pretty much every other Stephen King novel published up to that point, PLUS the Bachman Books.

But anyway, she left for work before I left for school, so it was a simple matter to skip school and binge this relatively short novel before she got home. (Rebellion, nerd style.)

To this day, I have no idea why my mom objected to that one particular book — she knew I had read far worse by that point.

How Gen X got its sex education (for better and for worse)

Was our feral generation damaged by this anything-goes access to books? Maybe? But there were some important takeaways, too.

Look, no one was telling me the explicit details of sex when I was a tweenager, but Judy Blume’s ‘Forever,’ plus highlighted excerpts from a dog-eared copy of ‘Endless Love’ (OMG) that was passed around my 8th grade classroom. Not to mention countless “lusty busty” historical romance novels — filled me in with more than ample detail.

And I’m talking about the kind of detail you weren’t otherwise going to easily access without, well, experiencing it yourself.

In my case, I was and am convinced that satisfying my curiosity about sex at that age so thoroughly (and even scaring myself a bit) probably kept me safer from teenage promiscuity than I otherwise would have been.

Vintage paperbacks - Forever - Flowers in the Attic - The Thorn Birds

Banned books: The power of “inappropriate” themes

Even more profoundly, author and Gen-Xer Viet Thanh Nguyen (b. 1971) warns us of the danger of banned books, speaking to the powerful — and sometimes empowering — impact of reading-things-we-probably-shouldn’t-be-reading in his New York Times essay this past week:

“When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was not prepared for the racism, the brutality or the sexual assault in Larry Heinemann’s 1977 novel, ‘Close Quarters’…

“…Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t complain to the library or petition the librarians to take the book off the shelves. Nor did my parents. It didn’t cross my mind that we should ban ‘Close Quarters’ or any of the many other books, movies and TV shows in which racist and sexist depictions of Vietnamese and other Asian people appear.

“Instead, years later, I wrote my own novel about the same war, ‘The Sympathizer.'”

— From: My Young Mind Was Disturbed by a Book. It Changed My Life.

Flowers in the Attic was our Harry Potter

It looks like most of Gen X had more plebeian tastes in the inappropriate reading material of their youths, and they have taken to Twitter to tell us exactly what they read over the course of their childhoods. (It isn’t pretty!)

And honestly, this is a fair question!

@likaluca: How in the world was a whole ass generation of 9-12 year olds allowed to read Flowers in the Attic? 😭

… but we all know the answer:

@DevinCow: Because Gen X

Mmmhmm (as well as Judy Blume’s ‘Forever’)

@MelissaEJordan: Allowed? No. I think it was just one paperback that got passed around the whole country.

@AgnosticLeigh: I loved going to the library as a kid & would spend all day there. Started with Nancy Drew, & discovered Stephen King, VC Andrews, Judy Blume, Daniele Steele, Star Wars Legacy. Non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, etc. Still an avid reader to this day!

@kipsgirl17: I read these YA horror novels in grade school. They are seriously messed up and freaky. Lol. I read everything. VC Andrews, John Saul, Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon…I’m 50, I’m fine, I still love to read.


@elisehooper: The absence of MG/YA books in the ’80s led to quite the leap from Little House to Scruples, The Thornbirds, Flowers in the Attic, etc. 😂

@saucissonsec: Between VC Andrews and Jean Auel the amount of bastshit insane erotica teenage girls consumed in the 80s-early 90s was really off the charts.

@DemoLady7: I was 12 the summer I went to my Aunt’s house in Florida. I picked up a book from her den called “Helter Skelter”. I knew of the Manson case because it was all over TV but I certainly did not know the details. Well, I survived the book and became fixated on crimes but I’m okay

@blue_and_tattoo: I recently saw Flowers in the Attic described as YA literature. I mean, I read it as a kid (it was the 80s) but I don’t think I was the target audience. Also read so much inappropriate lit as a kid. Parents policed what I watched, but not what I read. I appreciated the neglect.

Note: They made Flowers in the Attic into a movie, too

The book wasn’t particularly scary, so I’m not sure why this trailer has horror vibes.

Ah, I see I wasn’t the only one evading the bans

@claseur: I snuck my mom’s copy of Judy Blume’s Wifey out of her nightstand and read the whole thing while my parents were … fuck, I don’t know. Off somewhere.

But ultimately, this guy makes a solid point…

@Hjemmefronten16: Flowers in the Attic, Go Ask Alice, The Exorcist, etc. they let us read trash, but there were people trying to ban The Color Purple, Slaughterhouse V, Native Son, etc. back then. Trash doesn’t get banned because it doesn’t make you think.

Yep. I saw Amityville Horror when I was 12. Now THAT truly broke me.

@JosinMcQuein: It was the 80’s, when hard-R murder fests like Robocop and Terminator were marketed to kids, toys and all, and elementary teachers nationwide collectively lost their minds and used Aliens and Watcher in the Woods as “movie day” fare for 10 year olds. Gen-X just… wow…

Rebecca Morris

Rebecca Morris

Born in 1968 and a latchkey kid in the 80s — but NEVER a slacker — Rebecca Morris is a freelance writer and proud member of Generation X. A mom of six (two adult Millennials and three Gen Zers — plus one Gen A still at home). She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and three dogs.

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