I'm a little late to the party, as usual, but this is a topic that means something to me. I'm sure you've all seen the countless posts around our writing blogoshpere about the gentleman, Wesley Scroggins, who would like to see Laurie Halse Anderson's novel, Speak, banned from public schools in his state, Missouri.
Before I go on please take a look at Laurie's own post, here.
I'm not going to go into the specifics of why he thinks the book is filthy and immoral, or why he calls two scenes containing sexual abuse "softcore porn", partly because I haven't read the book but also partly because it doesn't even matter to me what this book is about. Okay, it does matter a little, because from what I hear it is a powerful, poignant and important story, especially for young women, of which I am raising two. But I don't want to get into any of that. I just want to talk about banning books and censorship in general.
Censorship is a bit like diet pills. It doesn't work, and when it is carried out it does more harm than good. At least it does to society, though it can be very good for sales. I would now like to list some books that were at one time banned. I'm only going to include books that I have actually read because I would like to illustrate how important a book can be in a person's life.
1984 - George Orwell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Call of the Wild - Jack London
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Ulysses - James Joyce
And last but certainly not least:
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Think about the irony of that last one for a second. A book about not only banning, but actually burning books. And they wanted to ban it. Hell someone somewhere probably burned it.
Now take a look at the entire list - there are obviously other great classics that people tried to ban, but these are the important ones that I have read - think about what our lives would be like without these novels. It's difficult to fathom.
I left comments on every blog I saw that talked about SPEAK this week. The point I tried to make was that banning books doesn't work. You may as well try to ban knowledge. It is my humble opinion that literacy and literature are both basic human rights. I allow both my daughters to read any book they find an interest in. If I am concerned about the content I make sure to read that book myself, so that we can discuss it together, as a family. If my daughter wanted to read Lolita I would be a little concerned about where she heard of it, and why she was curious about the story, but I would not forbid her to read it. She is 14 so I might try to encourage her to wait a few years, until she would be able to understand it better, but I would not forbid it.
It is our current culture of fear, abstinence and censorship that gives real power to the evils of the world. Hermione Granger said it rather well when she said fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself. Rape, incest, and sexual abuse such as what occurs in Speak, or takes place in Lolita, or in countless other novels do exist in real life. They are terrible things, sometimes destroying people's lives for good. But to pretend they don't exist, to sweep them under the carpet as if your child's bible study group, and her crucifix and her willingness to practice abstinence are going to protect her from all harm is the epitome of ignorance.
There are horrible things and horrible people out there in our world, in our society. To pretend that they don't exist, or to be unwilling to acknowledge them only lends more power to the vice grip of control they hold over good and decent people.
I would like to say to mister Wesley Scroggins and to the school board of the county in which he lives: please don't ban Speak. Please don't ban any books, whether they cover tough topics that make parents uncomfortable around their kids or simply have some fun fantasy story elements that contain the black magic known as witchcraft, don't censor them. Please just make sure that any child who does read these books and has tough questions about their topics doesn't have to find an answer to them alone. It takes a village.
Also, one day when I finally get published, please do ban my book. Nothing increases sales or makes an author earn critical acclaim faster than a little good old fashioned censorship.