September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week. Sigh.


It’s National Banned Books Week in America and there’s a lot of heavy, depressing stuff going down:  I’m particularly thinking of the blow-up about this disgusting little toerag Wesley Scroggins who thinks Laurie Halse Anderson’s terrific novel SPEAK is ‘soft porn’ and should be taken off library shelves.  Many other people have pointed this out, but the first person I saw doing so is Joanne Harris on Twitter:  that the accusation itself tells us all we need to know about Scroggins, who manifestly finds rape sexually arousing.

            There’s plenty out there on both Scroggins and the wider remit of Banned Books, and I’m not even going to try to post a judicious selection of links about it.  Here’s one  , which is the blog of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff on it, and it’ll certainly get you going—in more ways than one—if you need or want a place to start.  It also includes Scroggins’ original complaint, Halse Anderson’s response on her blog, and various other links to excellent if dispiriting further reading.  I particularly recommend the old essay by Kurt Vonnegut Jr in response to the news that his SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE was not merely banned off library shelves but thrown into the school furnace.  He writes:  ‘It was so cowardly, too—to make a great show of attacking artifacts. It was like St. George attacking bedspreads and cuckoo clocks.’

            And then there’s the don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry division.  I follow HuffPostBooks, and they posted this on Twitter:

which is an annotated list of the 2010 top ten most often ‘challenged’ books, which is to say the books people most often want to ban.  I can’t remember if TANGO made it into Days in the Life proper, but I remember there was a lively forum discussion about it a year ago because at that point I hadn’t heard of it, and my reaction was, What?

            I particularly like flashlightworthy’s* comment on this one: 

Tango the baby penguin and his two dads must be sad to have slipped from the #1 slot to #2 over the last year. The reason for requested removal? Homosexuality. Yes, apparently gay flightless waterfowl pose a serious threat to the moral fiber of our nation. On the other hand, it’s good to know that our society has become more tolerant of non-traditional penguin families.

             And then there’s this I retweeted from @thebookslut: Shel Silverstein “encourages children to break dishes so won’t have to dry them.” Banned Book Week

              This one presents us with The Top Ten Ludicrous Reasons to Ban a Book (and unsurprisingly if somewhat solipsistically gives us a link back to the American Library Association web site: ).  These are if anything more stunning than the previous list**.  The one thebookslut quotes is first, and it gets even more deranged and other-worldly as you go on.  I remember this one:  ‘If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’ which was used to recommend against BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, by Dee Brown.  I apologise for repeating myself but, WHAT?

            I also remember the accusation that Garth Williams’ THE RABBITS’ WEDDING is an incitement to miscegenation.  This is beyond WHAT? and into gibblegibblegibble territory.  You all know Garth Williams, right?  Illustrator of CHARLOTTE’S WEBB?  Little furry friendly critters?  Yeah.  WEDDING is little furry friendly critters too.  Here’s the cover:

I’m like yo, you folks there, whoever you were, can it get any more warm and fuzzy?***  The Wiki article quotes Williams as saying that he had no idea that fur equated with race and he just liked the colours.  But, you know, what if it was a secret text promoting miscegenation?  You know, so?  And your point would be?  We’ve got a president (who I for one still believe in) who’s the result of whatsit, although probably not among rabbits.

             Both these lists, however, take the same cheap shot at TWILIGHT:  go on, ban it, please.  I’m afraid I thought this was funny, at least the first time, and @radmilibrarian wrote:  ‘I know he’s trying to be funny about Twilight, but I actually have a BIG problem with people suggesting it’s OK to ban “bad” books.’

            Sigh.  Yes.  Okay.  True.  I tweeted back that I reserved the right to feel that certain bad books cause actual harm, and I would include TWILIGHT in this category† . . . but book banning isn’t really much of a joke.  Fair point.

            But @radmilibrarian tweeted me once more:  Also,

            Yes.  This is one of my Favourite Things.  I feel I must have known Peter’d got it up on his web site, but I didn’t remember it.  And it’s wonderful.  And it’s a good place to end even a lightweight, glancing discussion of the sad and thorny problem of banning books. ††  It’ll make you laugh, cheer, and go to bed with a favourite trashy novel.  On my way. . . . 

* * *

* I’ve bookmarked which is where the Huffington Post picked it up, and which describes itself as ‘Lists of Great Book Recommendations’—397 of them at present, but more all the time—‘books so good, they’ll keep you up past your bedtime.’  I’m drooling at just the idea of 397 lists of books.

** Although the lead-in claims:  ‘It is easy to become a little cynical of old disputes like the ones that thwarted Ulysses and The Catcher In The Rye. Those books are canonized now and their scandals seem removed by the passage of time and cultural norms.’  Well, CATCHER IN THE RYE is still on 2010’s most challenged list (as is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and THE COLOR PURPLE), so I guess I’d say you’re only allowed to be cynical if it doesn’t make you complacent. 

*** And the person or persons unknown who objected to FLICKA because ‘a female dog is called a bitch’ we hope will never come in contact with LADY:  MY LIFE AS A BITCH by Melvin Burgess.  Or, then again, maybe we do hope. 

† For all the reasons you would expect of a hellgoddess who has made a career out of writing stories about girls and women who do stuff themselves.  

†† And, just in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve been banned.  You’re all nodding wisely and saying DEERSKIN.  Yes, DEERSKIN—but HERO and SWORD too.^  Really.  I’ve also been more comprehensively condemned for writing fantasy ‘which teaches lies’.  Good, huh?   There’s some really dismal and pitiful stuff out there. 

^ I can’t believe SUNSHINE hasn’t been banned somewhere, but I don’t think I’ve heard about it.  I’ve heard from people who want to ban it, but that’s something else.  Maybe now with the flashy new YA-target SUNSHINE edition—that’s the shiny gold one—some outraged parent or school board member will notice it.  It was published as adult, as DEERSKIN was, not because I don’t want teenagers to read it, but as some warning that the subject matter, or any way the manner of telling, isn’t really suitable to kids, however precocious their vocabularies.


Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.