A fight is raging in Charleston, WV. It is an old fight, one that we’ve heard a million times. In one corner, angry parents who don’t want their high school students exposed to such unthinkable topics as suicide, violence, or profanity. (Just out of curiosity, I wonder how many of those same parents allow their children to watch Prime Time television?) In the other corner, an English teacher with two of the greatest American novels of our time.

It is not merely hyperbole when I tell you that Beach Music and Prince of Tides (both by beloved Southern novelist Pat Conroy) are etched not just in my memory, but on my soul. I have loved many books, but these books — especially Beach Music, which remains my favorite book of all time — stand out in my mind. I read them in the dark of the night, unable to put them down even though I was weak with exhaustion and my vision was blurred from hours of sobbing. These are the books I more than enjoyed. These are books that spoke to me. Books that changed me; that continue to change me. Books that I reread again and again — in bits and pieces usually because it is too overwhelming to read them all at once. They are not pretty stories, all tied up with a bow. (Though I would argue that they contain some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read.) They are dirty, gritty, hard, real stories. Stories about how life really is, not what we wish it was. They are books that every one should read. If I could create a required reading list for the world, these would be on it.

I despise censorship. And I hate the Charleston, WV school board for bowing to the pressure of these parents by temporarily banning these books while they “look into” the situation. I will hate them more if they make the ban permanent. But maybe I should thank them. Because what is the best way to get a teenager to read a book? Ban it.

In the meantime, I am reminded yet again why my love for Pat Conroy runs so deep. If you have not yet read his take on this situation, you must. In this letter to the editor of the Charleston Gazette his love and respect for literature and those who teach it, shines through. His passion for his own work makes me long to brush the dust off my copy of Beach Music and read it yet again.

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