Eff The Censors

Now, now calm down. I needed to get your attention to remind you that this week is Banned Book Week – the national initiative to draw attention to literary censorship.

Every now and then, the mother in me enters the room while the writer in me is working and I’ll notice a curse word in my book or I’ll realize that I have my teenage characters engaged in issues and situations that the readers’ parents may find uncomfortable. During those times, I ask myself two questions:

1) Would the teenage me want this information sanitized simply to make someone who wouldn’t likely read that particular book, anyway, comfortable?

2) Isn’t literature still a “safer” place to put complex issues into context than a 30 minute television show?

And the answers are no and yes, respectively.

I respect that educational institutions and libraries have many masters. And we all know that the funding source is where the buck begins and ends. Piss off too many folks with the money and you’re up a creek without a paddle. But literature has a tough enough time competing for children’s time thanks to streaming video on the internet and television – and those are just two of our competitors – banning books tends to give kids another reason not to read.

Why bother if the story isn’t authentic? And many banned books are banned simply for their authenticity.

Not many of us would find a book about nuns authentic if God wasn’t mentioned or they weren’t portrayed worshipping. Nor can a book about a teen protagonist journeying through life be authentic unless the details of that journey are put on display.

Would Judy Blume’s book, Forever, still be authentic if she hadn’t used the words “balls” or portrayed the protags first sexual experience?

While “balls” could have easily been substituted, there’s this little thing called voice and it was easier to believe the teen protag would use that term over testicles. And, as far as I’m concerned, she had to go into the character’s first time since the book was about the stew of emotions and actions that is first love.

Every banned book can be put under a microscope and dissected. Each scene could be questioned – does this scene need to be there? But doing so misses the point. Books aren’t about scenes, they’re about the entire story. About where the character started and ended and how he or she got there. The devil is in the details and sometimes those details aren’t pretty.

Interested in showing your support for Banned Books Week? Participate in the Virtual Read Out.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2010

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit

Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

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