Speaking out for banned books

September 25, 2010

The cover of Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK

Banned Books Week begins today, and this year it comes at a particularly appropriate time: on Sunday Laurie Halse Anderson wrote on her blog that Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University, had decried Speak as pornographic. While the book contains sexual content, it’s in the form of a rape scene that the protagonist chooses to remain silent about. For once I’m actually angrier about the reason someone wants a book banned rather than the actual move to get a book removed from school. What kind of sicko thinks a rape scene is soft pornography? Scroggins’s original opinion piece is available via the Springfield News-Leader.

At Anderson’s request, readers and bloggers across the Internet have been speaking up and speaking out for not just Speak but against banning books using the #speakloudly hashtag. And Sarah of GreenBeanTeenQueen, who lives and works in Missouri, wrote against book banning and reflected on her own Christian identity in light of Scroggins’s “Christian” opposition to the book. But even more powerful was CJ’s post at The Last Word in which she came out as a rape survivor, talking about the effect it had on her life throughout her adolescence and college. She even stood up as a Christian in defense of the book:

Maybe SPEAK isn’t Dr. Scroggins’ cup of tea. Maybe the idea of having his children read about a highly dysfunctional family is upsetting. Maybe the thought of having rape be a terrible reality in the life of the book’s main character offends him. That’s his right. But for every child who is blessed with a non-dysfunctional home and who hasn’t been broken by something as awful as rape, there’s another girl like me. A girl who can’t find the words to describe how shattered she feels. Who doesn’t even know if she has the right to feel shattered. Who’s learned that bringing her secrets to the light results in more pain. That girl needs books like SPEAK to be on the shelves. She needs to know there are others out there like her. She needs to see someone else’s path so she can have the language to start thinking about her own outcome.

As a Christian and a rape survivor, I want SPEAK to stay on the shelves. And I want others to write books about rape. Incest. Child abuse. Eating disorders. Multiple personality disorder. Post traumatic stress disorder. Because those are just as real, just as present, for some kids as worrying about grades and peer pressure are for others. Books can give children the language they need to be able to describe themselves and the things they’re facing. To silence the book could be to silence the child.

ALA's promotional buttons for Banned Books Week 2009

I'm not a huge fan of this year's BBW promotional materials, but I really liked last year's

In preparing for Banned Books Week, what struck me about the list of most-frequently challenged books was that most of them are titles for teens, and that most of the challenges are due to the sexual nature of the book, and that what is and isn’t on the list is sometimes surprising. Even this year, To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye made the top ten. And while Lauren Myracle’s TTYL, TTFN, and L8R G8R have sexual content, it seems pretty tame and a lot of the conflict comes from the girls dealing with the consequences of making ill-advised decisions (like dancing topless at a party and then having cell phone pictures of her doing so circulated through the school). But is what happens in these books any worse than the sexual content in a John Green novel? In Jellicoe Road? Or even more intense books like Living Dead Girl? None of these titles have made it to the top ten list despite having equally “edgy” or even more disturbing content. I suspect this is because most would-be challengers don’t actually read the book to which they’re objecting, but rather rely on the opinion of friends or newspaper articles about challenges elsewhere to find books to challenge.

And as interesting as the data collected by the Office of Intellectual Freedom is, they estimate that for every challenge that’s reported to them, four or five others aren’t. I saw first hand a book be challenged and silently removed from the library without any media attention or the OIF being notified. So in addition to speaking out against censorship and book banning, I want to speak up for reporting challenges to the OIF. It’s part of raising awareness and helping to fight the good fight.

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Sarah (Librarian in Training)  |  September 26, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    Fabulous post! Banned Books Week is so important to all of us! I can never believe how eager some people are to ban books without any comprehension of them. I like this quote, though, “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

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