Monday, September 27, 2010

Playing With Fire: Book Banning

Everyone grab your coffee and croissants, and make sure you’re comfortable. This is going to be a long post as this subject is one of my hot buttons in general, and as you’ll discover, even I can sometimes be conflicted. Differentiating between right and wrong isn’t always that easy, is it?

Last week, our very own Madison Scott posted about how outraged she was over a man who had complained to the school board about certain books in the school libraries. You can read Madison’s post here >

This week is Banned Books Week (September 25 – October 2). Lots of organizations get involved to not only celebrate our freedom to read as we desire but also to remind everyone that censorship in any form must not be tolerated.

Now, I understand the need within the public school systems to consider the age appropriateness of any book. That makes perfect sense to me. However, every once in a while a book finds its way into a school’s library that offends someone and parents run screaming to have it removed. Or in the case of Madison’s post, one man. A lot of times the silent majority never even weighs in.

Most of these books are rejected by those wanting them banned due to religious beliefs or sexual content. The Harry Potter Series comes to mind as one I heard about at my children’s school as some parents finding objectionable based on the theme of witchcraft. Speak by Laurie Anderson is one that Madison mentioned in her post, and, of course, this book clearly has some sexual overtones that make it unacceptable to some. Recently an invitation to Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank, a NYTBS, to attend a Teen Lit Festival in Humble, Texas was rescinded by the school superintendant there. Apparently a middle school librarian believed that Ms. Hopkin’s presence would not be good for students. Since then, several authors have pulled out of the Teen Lit Festival in protest. What a loss to those students. You can read about it here >

We can sit here and say that the individuals who would ban or even burn these books are unintelligent, prejudiced, or some sort of zealot all we want, but that’s not always the case, and the bottom line is that it’s their right to protest these books just as much as it’s my right to want the books to remain on the shelves. And that’s where all this gets tricky, isn’t it? And where all my personal conflict sometimes starts.

No. I don’t in any way fashion, shape, or form applaud book banning. If it happened here in my hometown, you better believe I’d be on the frontline raising HOLY HELL. But I have to defend everyone’s right to their opinion and their right to raise their children as they see fit. I might not agree with the person, but they do have those rights the same as I do. Parents should be vigilante as to what their children are reading. As a matter of fact, if your child is reading something like Speak or Crank, then it’s a good idea to sit down and talk with them about the subject matter. It’s not enough for a child/young adult to read a book, they also need to understand how what they’ve read applies to life. I haven’t read either of those books, but as I understand it, both are incredibly worthwhile reads. My children are no longer at that age in which I monitor their reading habits, but when they were younger, I most certainly did.

It seems to me that those who complain about what our libraries stock on the shelves would be better off simply keeping closer tabs on their children and teaching them right from wrong rather than limiting the scope of their reading by doing away with books. Because, after all, not everyone’s beliefs and ideas as to how to raise their children are the same. Yet I sit here and see their point when these book banners refuse to consider mine. And that’s where they lose me.

Here’s something else for you to think about. A few days ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a well known book distribution site. I clicked on the link and could not believe my eyes. This huge business was selling books with content which the vast majority of traditional publishers consider way past taboo. Underage sex, incest, rape, and bestiality stared at me from the web page. My first thought? That I’d never buy another book from that site again. The subject matter of those books is sickening and the idea that they are up there for sale right along with mine disgusts me. But I had to take a step back and think. I was basically saying that “someone” had no right to read these books. That the author had no right to write these books.

And yes, I think those books were designed to feed some very sick minds---to tap into the lowest forms of pornography possible, and to make money. I don’t for one second believe there was a miniscule amount of honor as a writer in putting pen to paper in creating those stories.

Did you know that bestiality is only illegal in like thirty-four out of our fifty states? Not completely illegal in the UK either. And not at all illegal in a great many countries. Underage sex is not illegal in a lot of countries too. Rape laws have always been questionable in almost all countries, haven’t they? I still can’t condone these books. Don’t want to think of them up for sale. But I can’t demand they be taken down either.

I’m just one person trying to muddle through all of this. I won’t ever read those books I deem to be trash, but I can honestly say that I would defend anyone’s right to read those books. And I hope like hell the day never comes when I have to defend those books too. The subject of book banning is a lot harder to understand and deal with than most might think. I’ve been reading articles for a few days now and I’m amazed by all the challenges to books. Check out the list here >

I’m also amazed by the court challenges and lawsuits involved. I write erotic romance. Most visitors to this blog either write it or read it. Who’s to say that one day someone won’t challenge one of our books? The Constitution of the United States does not protect what is referred to as “obscene literature”. And just who issues the litmus test? No, I don’t expect one of my books to end up in a school library, but a great many erotic romances are sitting in public libraries. There are also a great many erotic romance writers who, under a different pen name, write YA. What would happen to this author’s YA titles if just one person, one unenlightened individual within a school system, discovered that the author whose books are in her child’s school library also penned erotica? Guilt by association?

My way of celebrating Banned Books Week is to educate myself on this issue. To give it some serious thought—which I have. Discussion on this subject is important to the education process, and I’d like to know the views of everyone who reads this post. Has your child ever brought home a book from school that you seriously thought about making a complaint about or did complain? Have you ever picked up a book at your local library and questioned as to why it was ever placed on the shelf? What do you think about those ultra taboo topics I mentioned and their place in society—should we protect those type of books?—or do we have the right to only protect the books we agree with? Let me hear from you.

My publisher, Ellora’s Cave, is encouraging everyone to review a favorite banned book this week—again, you’ll find the list here > as a way of supporting Banned Books Week. Visit Ellora’s Cave Redlines and Deadlines Blog to read more about the challenge.

Thanks to everyone who stops by and comments. I’ll see you next Monday!


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you Tess. Parents should monitor what their kids are reading, instead of trying to tell libraries what they should and shouldn't have on their shelves.
I went over that banned book list, I find it interesting that I've read a good portion several while it elementary school- Goosebumps and Scary Stories- I read Go Ask Alice in high school and can understand why it was banned. Many of the classics on that list are now required reading or at least were when I was in high school.
There are many children's books out there I don't want my daughter reading, am I going to go on a all out rally to get them taken off library shelves? NO. I just won't buy them or let her get them out, it's much simpler.

Tess MacKall said...

Exactly, Nanny. Makes more sense to pay attention to what your children are reading. Just like I don't have to watch a particular TV show or movie, I can elect NOT to read a particular book and NOT allow my children to read it.

I've read quite a few of those books on that list. A Time to Kill and The Color Purple are two of my all time favorites. I can see why the material is objectionable to some but that doesn't mean that those books don't contain a worthwhile message. Because they most certainly do. Any book that leaves me choked up, makes me want to read it again and again, has a real honest-to-God message behind it.

I was a bit shocked to see Judy Blume books on there too. But then there was a furor about what's her name and what she wore on the Sesame Street show for her play date with Elmo recently too.

And I remember something recently about the new Dora the Explorer's makeover being a bit too risque. sighhhh

You know, I don't have the time or energy to police every single thing in this world. I think it's enough that I police my own little world in so far as worrying about what my kids are seeing and reading and leave it up to everyone else to decide what is best for theirs.

Natalie Dae said...

Grr. Blogger is acting up. I left a long comment and it got scoffed.

I can't remember all I said, so just know I'm nodding here.

Anny Cook said...

Book subject matter--and its acceptability or not--changes with time. Ten years ago ninety percent of the erotic romance books would be shelved in an "adult" section of a bookstore. Now they're mixed in with the standard romances.

When I was six, I had my own copy of Little Black Sambo. No one thought much about it. Now it's a banned book and considered very offensive.

The Pearl, The Romance of Lust, My Secret Life, Man with a Maid, are all books from the Victorian era that address your "forbidden" themes with gusto and zest.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing new out there. I think the key is not so much what you or I want to read as whether the material is age appropriate. After that, each parent NEEDS to take responsibility for their own children.

What I see happening is children watching TV programs and movies and listening to music that is wildly inappropriate. In this day, that is far more of a danger than almost any book.

One last thought... the more a book is banned, the more curious we as humans are about "why". I confess that's why I read the Victorian erotica--just to see what all the hollering was about.

Tess MacKall said...

LOL Nat. I can imagine all you had to say. We've discussed this book banning thing before.

Qwillia Rain said...

Very sound argument, Tess. I actually worked in a school and the librarian (who wasn't a librarian by education, but because she'd volunteered) had a set policy regarding requests to remove a book and she never removed books unless the procedure had been followed completely. Needless to say, only a few books were complained about and none removed. But she did have parents fill out forms listing types of books they don't want their child reading and she was very diligent in making sure the students stuck to that preferred reading list.
As for books in libraries, I have to wonder if "The Joy of Sex" is still in the library of my middle school. The librarian had it locked away and would check it out to students as long as there was a note from their parents and he'd called them to confirm it was real.

Tess MacKall said...

Anny--I do have to agree that the more fuss that is made about a book the more popular it becomes. It would seem that the naysayers are only serving to give the books they think so little of a much bigger bang than they might have had.

And I also agree with you about kids watching TV--and video game content is off the charts with graphic language and sexuality. Of course, we now have content ratings on video games too.

I still see erotic romances in my area sitting on the bottom shelf I'm sorry to say. But the number of erotic romance readers is growing every day. What used to be whispered about is now at the forefront of conversations. Just as you say, Anny. What was taboo yesterday, isn't tomorrow.

Tess MacKall said...

Hiya Qwillia,

The Joy of Sex. lol I love it. Now when I was in high school I remember a couple of really racy books circulating amongst us gals. The Cheerleader was the one I can remember the most. I can honestly say that the book had NO business in a high school library. Welllll, maybe not back then--might be acceptable now. Not sure. I'd have to read it again. But it was a good book and I'm here to tell you that those pages were dog-eared to death. And actually that book was the first in the Snowy Series by author Ruth Doan MacDougall.

She takes the three cheerleaders, Puddles, Bev, and Snowy on their journey through life, starting with high school in the fifties and right on up into their fifties. I missed the last one and really must read it. But all us gals talked about which character defined us personally. So, in a lot of ways, we identified with those characters. Not a tossaway for sure.

I think the librarian you knew/know is right on track. Lots of libraries in schools and public libraries do the same thing she did. It's pretty standard and each library has to make a decision based on the challenge to determine whether the challenge has merit. There's even an article or two I read about HOW to challenge books. I never knew it was all so complicated.

Kate Richards said...

Although I've come far from those roots, I had 12 years of parochial school education and the Catholic Church has its own banned book lists as well as movies. It's famous for them. And yet, those nuns and lay teachers managed to get books of every kind into our hands. They probably could have been fired, but Sister Bernadette of the blue hair was at least 70 when she assigned us Catcher in the Rye. I give her credit for the education that has allowed me to be both an editor and writer of erotic romance.She's long gone, but I somehow think she'd be proud. Thank heavens for free thinkers, even those in wimples.

Ana Lee Kennedy said...

Great post, Tess!

It wasn't that long ago that I saw a debate on legislature concerning erotica fiction. I think it came through the AWH group, and my mind is fuzzy on the specifics, but one of the southern states was trying to ban all erotic fiction, including erotic romances. This happened about the same time a super model who lives in NY State went through a divorce. Her husband was quite rich, and since she wrote erotic romances on the side, the man's atty used that as an excuse to say she was an unfit mother and she lost her parental rights to her twin girls and has to have supervised visitations.

People's viewpoints are screwy a lot of times, and if money is thrown into the mix? Oy!

But whether it's books, drugs, or whatever, if something is outlawed, it only makes people want it all that much more. Folks will just go "underground" to purchase it or do it.

However, when it comes to what kids see, do, read, etc., it all goes back to the parents. Parents must monitor and guide their children.

But Judy Blume books???? What the hell is going on in some people's minds??? For crying out loud!

Tess MacKall said...

Ahhhh, the good Sisters, Kate. And The Catcher in the Rye was part of my high school freshman English reading requirement. As I recall there was a bit of a stir about it. Not that I paid any attention. At the time, being all of fourteen, I could have cared less as to whether I read it. But...once I did??? It ended up being one of the books that got me hooked on reading in general.

It's not easy to capture a kid's attention as it is. It takes pretty provocative works to do that in my humble opinion. Do I mean provocative in a sexual manner? No, not necessarily. But you have to speak to what they are curious about too. And a kid can spot a phony in a heartbeat. So they tend to like their books real.

And a little Amen for Sister Bernadette. Without her we might not have the fabulous writer and editor known as Kate Richards.

Tess MacKall said...

Yep, Faith...those Judy Blume challenges had me going, "huh?" lol

I agree, anytime you single something out you up the curiosity level. So maybe in a way these book banners are doing us all a favor by pointing out a book I might not ever otherwise read.

As for erotic romance? They can't kill it. Human sexuality and romance go hand in hand. Women being the driving force behind it all, of course. And we women just don't give up, do we? lol

Bad on the judge who gave that woman's kids away. What an idiot.

Regina Carlysle said...

The beastiality thing is just SQUICK! Still, people have the right to write them and people have the right to read them. As to schools? I really hate that narrow minded people throw kinks in the ointment by trying to toss books that can really HELP our young people. Parents DO need to be involved by checking to see what their kids are reading...same as what they are watching on tv or what they are doing on the internet. Parental involvement is a must and if there is censorship going on, it should be in the home with parents communicating with their kids.

Here in town, there was a well loved english teacher who had a Texas Approved book list from which students could choose a book and write a report. Lo and Behold,one of the kids picked a Cormack McCarthy book that her parents thought was unacceptable. So what did they do? They filed charges on the TEACHER. Ridiculous. If the parents didn't like the book, why didn't they have the child simply choose another one? There are some crazy folks out there!

C. Zampa said...

How things have changed. When I was in sixth grade, I brought home a book from the school library. I can't remember what it was, but I enjoyed it so.

My mother, who monitored what I read, examined the book.

To my utter horror, she called the school, reported the book had the word 'damn' in it, and requested the book be removed from the shelves.

Would you believe they DID remove it? Of course, in that day, for the word 'damn' to be in a YA (I have no idea what the genre was called back then) WAS offensive.

I enjoyed the blog, it made me think. I have to agree I would not want to stand in the way of anybody reading any literature they chose.

But when it comes to what children have access to on the school bookshelves, then it does fall into a different realm. And who DOES call the shots then?

VERY good questions posed, Tess, on your blog.

Tess MacKall said...

Another one of those instances when it would have been so easy to just walk away. We live in a sue-happy society for sure, Regina.

I might decide I don't want my kid reading this or that or doing this or that, but why make decisions for other parents?

Some kids are more mature and advanced than others and can handle subject matter that others can't. I mean, what possible grounds could they have for a suit?

Tess MacKall said...

The word "damn", huh? Sounds like my mama. Although mine never paid any attention to what I read. If she had? Whoa. lol Cause I always read the most advanced books I could get my hands on. The Catcher in the Rye was one that got me started. The Cheerleader was another. And God. When I discovered romance? MMMMMMMM...I read a book about Mary Queen of Scots. OMG...some of those bedroom scenes. I remember one where her lover drizzled wine from his mouth to hers. Soooooooooo erotic.

Cold shower alert!!!!!!!

The Mockingbird Book Emporium said...

We've got a table with the ones we have in inventory, along with stickers which read 'Think for yourself and let others do the same'.

I was floored when I saw Judy Blume books AND the Junie B Jones series. When I was in the 7th grade, I devoured any Norma Klein book AND Judy Blume! This is getting insane. I remember Lady Chatterly's Lover being banned when I was in jr. high.

And as a senior, my mom let me read Clan of the Cave Bear. A substitute teacher saw me reading it and asked if my mom knew what I was reading. Hell yes; she also let me read Valley of the Horses! Scandalous...snort!

Molly Daniels

Tess MacKall said...

Love your table, Molly! Yes, it was shocking to me too to see Judy Blume books on the list. I just don't get it. There's something out there that everyone can object to I guess.

But what gets me is why some people take their disagreement to the levels they do. I've tried to figure out why. At first I thought, well, if a book instructs my teenager on how to build a bomb I'd probably scream bloody murder. But then I thought again---adults have the right to read those books and it's MY responsibility to make sure my teenager doesn't. But I wouldn't want that book in my school library, of course. Which again, goes to age appropriateness.

There are some books I can see me not wanting in the school libraries. But those would be extreme cases with me. I think what it all boils down to with me where book banning is concerned is the fact that some individuals try to dictate morality to us all. Or at least morality as they see it.

Unknown said...

Great post! Oh my God, I read my first Harlequin romance when I was ten years old. Grams had gone to a garage sale and bought a giant bag of books for a dollar. Good thing the top ones were A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Little Women and Black Beauty.

I have to say that I object to book banning period, because it tramples on everyone's individual rights. Parents should decide themselves what their kid is exposed to, not leave it up to a librarian or school official. If my mom thought I shouldn't be reading something, she took it away. She never demanded that the book be removed. And kids find a way to read objectionable material. I sure did.

By the way, the most shocking book on the list for me was To Kill A Mockingbird. This is my ultimate all-time favorite book and it was a great tool for learning about racism. My parents and I discussed it when I said I wanted to read it.

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Melissa,

I've always bought books for my kids with very little concern about the content actually. I guess it's a matter of having faith in my kids and maybe I'm confident that I taught them right from wrong too.

They've come to me with some pretty tough questions over the years--simply trying to understand some hard topics. Books can help them gain that understanding. Rather than parents looking at books with controversial subject matter as being bad for their children, they should look at it as an opportunity to open up a dialogue with their children about some very difficult subjects.

If a book or movie or video game can influence your child in such a way that there is an incredibly negative impact, then something else is at work. Something much deeper than reading or playing a game.

And To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all time faves, too, Melissa. There's no doubt the challenges to that book came from deep rooted prejudice.

Fiona McGier said...

It has always amazed and baffled me that the same parents who scream bloody murder about an allusion to sex that they don't want their kids exposed to, are the same ones who rent all of the Predator and/or Saw movies for their kids' sleep-over! Why is violence okay, but sex is taboo? When my 4 were younger, I'd severely restrict their viewing of horror and violence, and when they watched it at other kids' houses, they were disturbed enough to tell me about it. Bottom line is you know your own kids best, and you are the only one who has the right to decide what they can or can't read. I sub in many high schools, and most these days offer alternate reads when any parent finds the assigned reading offensive. That being said, I never censured what my kids could read, as my own parents never did for me either. I'm an English teacher. Anytime kids are reading is good!

Anne Rainey said...

Get ready to throw the tomatoes, because I'm going to speeak out here. That link you're talking about, yep, I know the one because I'm the one who showed it to Regina. And no I would never defend a person's right to read or write that sickening shit. Over my dead body. In one of the books (according to the customer's review) they were having sex with babies. Babies!!

Um, there IS a line for me and that's it.

However, I'm all for supporting our rights. Freedom of speech, right to bear arms, right to vote.

So, you ask, does this make me, Anne Rainey, a hypocrite? Writing erotic romance and yet speaking out against a book labeled erotica? I personally don't think so. It just means I have my limits, as do most people, I believe. It also means that while you're defending that writer's right to write that book and a reader's right to read it on one side of the fence, I'll be on the other, hoping to God someone take's that horrible, depraved thing off the shelves.

And so, I suppose, that's what America is all about, huh? :)

A very thought provoking post, Tess!

Madison Scott said...

I just have a major problem with book banning. I know what books you're talking about on the major site. At first I was saying the same thing. How are they there? You're right, people have a right to read that, I guess. Weirds me out though. LOL.

I just think when it comes to books, everyone should have their own choice and no one should be able to take that away. Parents should be the one monitoring for their child, no Joe Blow's dad.

Madison Scott said...

Okay, I just read Anne's post. LOL. I guess I didn't look at all the books, Babies?? Nope, I draw a line there too. No matter what, I don't think it should be okay with children. That's something I actually DO think should be banned. It's wrong and disgusting.

Anne Rainey said...

Madison--I pretty much agree with all of you here. I DO feel that we, as parents, have the right to decide what our children do. I want to raise my kids, I don't want some politian or preacher doing it for me.

I guess in a nutshell (and I'm explaining myself badly right now) what I'm saying is that I don't feel books should be banned.

What I do feel--strongly here--is that if the content of the book revolves around men having sex with babies then the person selling it should be arrested, as to me that's no different than child porn. Why would it be illegal to sell pictures of children nude and then turn around and write a story about a man having sex with a baby and call that erotica and make money off it?

Tess MacKall said...

I agree, Fiona. Anytime kids are reading is good. I never censured their reading material either.

I actually had a talk years ago with my kids' pediatrician about the horror movies. They wanted to watch them and I kept saying no.

He said to me that it was a way for kids to learn to desensitize themselves from certain fears. I can't remember all that he said now, but it sort of made sense to me. He did say, however, that he didn't recommend them having a horror festival and watching all the time.

So I let them watch some. Minus me. I have never tolerated a horror film. Never. And honestly? I don't think it screwed me up by NOT watching them. lol

But I've always told my kids that everytime you pick up a book you learn something new. There was another incident recently in which another Texas school district just banned some YA author's line of vamp books. I don't know the details as I was too busy to read. But it seems that book banning is a lot more prevalent than I ever knew.

Tess MacKall said...

No tomatoes, Anne. I waffle over that one, believe me. And I didn't stay on the site long enough to really look at the content. It truly icked me out. Sickening stuff.

I have to agree with you pretty much. I'd just love to shove those books down those author's throats---only with them on fire. LOL Yeah, on fire.

You'd think those books would be banned by the government. Because they are indeed obscene. I'd say they'd pass that litmus test for sure.

Really surprising that this distribution site would allow that content though, isn't it? I guess money talks, doesn't it. Cause there are probably some sickos buying them like crazy.

Tess MacKall said...


I feel like you too. But at the same time, I do have to wonder where are the obscenity laws? Seems to me these books would definitely meet that criteria. After all, the acts that are depicted in these books aren't just illegal, they are acts that should damn a person to burn in Hell.