Monday, September 20, 2010

Sticking it to the Ban

In case you were unaware, liebe Autoren, this Saturday, September 25th through Sunday, October 3rd is Banned Books Week! I heartily recommend you select and read a title from this list of frequently challenged books (browsable by author, year, and decade!) sometime this month or next. I also encourage you, if you are Twitter-inclined, to tweet on the subject via use of the #SpeakLoudly hashtag (see below).

This month more than any, gentle readers, reminds us of the importance of our First Amendment rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(Emphasis mine.)

In particular, I'm thinking of the YA novel SPEAK, which I've learned from the author, Laurie Halse Anderson (via Janet Reid and Tahereh Mafi) has been called "pornography" by Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University. (His original op-ed in the Springfield News-Leader can be found here.)

Challenging books with sexual or otherwise "questionable" content is nothing new; Joyce's Ulysses was branded pornography when it was first published serially in the United States in 1918 (a charge that wasn't dismissed until the Supreme Court case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses in 1933). Many profoundly important books—including several major works of Western literature—have been challenged or banned at some point in their histories, and it's due in large part to the First Amendment and individual teachers', librarians', and activists' commitment to free speech and opposition to censorship that these books have been made available to United States citizens, students included.

Scroggins maintains that not only should SPEAK be banned, but modern classics like Slaughter-House Five (which, according to Republic Superintendent Vern Minor, has been removed from all school libraries) should also be unavailable to students (mostly due to use of "the f-word"). For context, the district in question teaches abstinence-only sex education to all students, and Scroggins has also been involved in Reclaiming Missouri for Christ, a seminar whose purpose was "to educate... all citizens... to the role of fundamental, Biblical Christianity in the establishment... of our legal... system" (again, emphasis mine). The full quote is in Laurie's post.

I, like Laurie, fear that parents (and possibly even educators) reading Scroggins' op-ed will believe what Scroggins is saying, and will pressure schools to remove valuable books from their libraries as a result. I therefore propose the following, Concerned Parents of America: before you make a decision to remove a book from a library, read it yourself. If you find you disagree with the content, communicate this to your child. Be aware of what your children are reading, watching on television, or browsing on the Internet. Just because you determine a book is unacceptable for you or your child does not give you the right to deprive other people of the right to read that book. Period.

I urge you, mes auteurs, via Laurie's post, to comment on Scroggins' op-ed, write a letter to Superintendent Vern Minor, write a letter to the News-Leader, or simply tweet this post, Laurie's, Tahereh's, or Janet's, using the #SpeakLoudly hashtag.

The freedom to read what we wish is precious and protected in this country. We don't know what we have until it's taken away.


  1. Great post.
    You can also add a twibbon to your twitter avatar:

  2. Thanks for posting about this. I'm a library worker, and we always do a big read-out during Banned Books Week. Last year I read from SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE; the year before that, it was THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, another book with a violent rape scene. It's still important that these books be read. It's still important that people write about the dark and dreary aspects of humanity. We can't let ideas be suppressed.

  3. When I was in high school, I remember the banned book list being much, MUCH smaller and generally receiving a lot of outcry every year (though not enough to ever do anything about it). Looking through this link, I'm shocked out how many books I read in high school now appear here. LORD OF THE FLIES and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE were both part of my ninth-grade reading.

    We lamented the loss of Huckleberry Finn (which I just read recently). Now...the list is just staggering.

    (I will point out that these bannings are not an act of Congress, throwing your first amendment quote into murkier water.)

  4. Thanks so much for posting about this!

    How awesome is it that if you Google "Wesley Scroggins" now, the first link to come up is for author Sarah Ockler's "Win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack" contest?

  5. *FIST PUMP*

    you are all kinds of awesome.

  6. I think this has to be looked at in terms of the real reason people want this book banned. The reason is fear. They are afraid. Fear is usually the reason behind all book burnings.

    The fear here is that reading this book will result in behavior that is a threat to (parental) power and control.


  7. Oh, dear. This is my hometown newspaper. Well, I can't say I'm surprised. It's part of the reason I left years ago.

    Another Springfield, MO fun fact: it's the meth capital of the world! Woo! We're number one! We're number one!

  8. Wendy, your comment made me snort diet Coke through my nose.

    And Marjorie-- down with adjective banning! You can have my "awesome" when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

  9. Wendy, if it makes you feel any better, 70 other towns and cities claim to be the meth capital of the world. It changes every year (Philadelphia, Kansas City, and so on). When I was in college, it was a small town in Iowa only 40 miles away from where I lived.

    A title that Springfield does hold onto year after year is having more Chinese restaurants per square foot than any other city in the US. :)

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  11. Thanks for posting this and I hope everybody with a blog will join in by reading and writing about a "challenged" book. I've already begun with posts on FEED, JULIE OF THE WOLVES, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, TWISTED and LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Last year, I wrote about one of my favorite challenged books, THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Please, please read them, support the authors.

  12. I'm published in erotic romance. So I cop the "You write porn and I'd never read that stuff" comments all the time -- even from friends. I very politely explain the difference between porn, erotica and erotic romance, and invite them to read one of my books before they discount it as porn. That, I can handle. It's a matter of educating people about genres. But it shocks the heck out of me that someone could support a ban on a book they've never even read. That's more than just ignorance, it's frightening. In New Zealand, we'd call that person a "sheep", someone who blindly follows the herd. Baaaa!

    My young daughter is an avid reader and reads far above her age group. So I'm always aware of what she's reading. If I have any doubts about content, I read the book first, just so I'm prepared for what questions might arise. If I don't feel comfortable with her reading a particular book, we'll discuss it. Heck, isn't that what parenting is all about? And I gotta say, some of the books they're having to study in English this year would curl your hair. Bet the teachers are getting some really interesting questions from their students, LOL.

    Climbing off my soapbox now -- sorry guys, this just makes me so mad! And thanks for posting this, and to everyone who's recommended "challenged" books. I'll be adding a bunch to my "buy" list.

  13. This is the single greatest thing I have ever read on the Internet:

    "Concerned Parents of America: before you make a decision to remove a book from a library, read it yourself. If you find you disagree with the content, communicate this to your child. Be aware of what your children are reading, watching on television, or browsing on the Internet. Just because you determine a book is unacceptable for you or your child does not give you the right to deprive other people of the right to read that book. Period."

    Thank you.

  14. Which begs the question. Is "management" a discipline that deserves professorial rank? Just more evidence of the continuing dilution of American higher education. See Prof. Andrew Hacker's recent NPR interview.

  15. Seriously...I thought this country was smarter than this. Books are themselves very good, no matter what you write about, because it's the person's decision to read them! If they're worried about parenting woes, then educate parents and leave the decision up to them, seriously.

    As for the Christianity thing that really makes me irritated, being one myself and not one of these crazies, banning a book is not going to help. They need to read the Bible sometime if that's the case, it has rape, sex, incest, war, death, disease, hate, and uses all of it to tell stories that teach lessons! If they want to ban something for inappropriate content, ban their own religious book!

    Bottom line, books are good! Don't ban them!

  16. Well said Eric. Thanks for spreading the awareness. I wrote about this on Thursday, but all the bloggers you've referenced here said it much better than I did.