Thursday, September 23, 2010

SPEAK Loudly

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.

Readers: thoughts?


Hannah said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Better late than never. What a great way for everyone to speak out against such injustice by exercisinng our free speech!

DEZMOND said...

I've a bit different opinion. Like you I've also haven't read that book and have no idea what it is about, so I'm here speaking in general not about that particular book. This case that you mention isn't about burning or banning books period, but about not putting a certain book into schools where it would be served to still undeveloped minds which may not have enough maturity to grasp certain critical scenes.
I think that today all kinds of horrible books are being served to kids teaching them to use violence and physical fight as an answer and solution, or introducing vampires, devils and all kinds of monsters as admirable heroes.
Young kids and teens don't need an exposure to such dark things in their tender age, their souls shouldn't be faced with harsh things and brutal concepts so early in life because it can make them numb to real life bloodshed, violence, crime and wars later on. Adults need to take more responsibility if they have kids. It shouldn't be taken lightly.

If that man's arguments were like these ones above it's OK, but if he is just some shocked quasi Christian puritan then it's not OK.

Christine Fonseca said...

I agree Matt, and it is never too late to speak out against censorship!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

You stated it beautifully, Matt, and so did Hermoine. I have to say, I'm so confused about this guy. I just don't get it. Are people bored? Does he or anyone else who's ever tried to ban a book believe they are doing good??

I guess this just makes us stronger as writers. United we stand.

Robyn Lucas said...

Thanks for the post Matthew. I read Speak, and thought it was a moving book. As a victim or date rape myself, I found it to be enlightening and freeing on many levels. As an adult, this book gave me confidence to talk about my experience.

I would hate to see Speak banned. Teens see worse subject matter and language everyday on television and movies. To single this one book out, is pure ignorance.

It's sad that our current culture is reverting back to a hyper-sensitive, psuedo-religious state, heightened by an underlying puritanical political disease.

(Fahrenheit 451- loved that book!)

Matthew MacNish said...

Robin, I know you may not come back to see this, but if you do please email me. I tried to respond to your comment via email, but your blogger account does not have one connected.

Unknown said...

I am not a fan of censorship as I was subject to it my entire life. I bet this guy is trying to run for office somewhere and he needs to build himself a platform first.

Anne Gallagher said...

Matt, I read 4 of those banned books in high school and we had to discuss them at great length. 1984 still sticks with me.

Nothing should be banned, you're right. Although parental guidance as you suggested is the right thing to do.

My biggest pet peeve in this book banning thing is movies. How can they ban a book that is powerful, moving and honest, when there is so much crap out there on film and tv and our kids just watch endless hours of it. It's no wonder there is so much violence in the world with 184 channels of crap.

(And I have to say, I censor everything my daughter watches. She's only 5)

JE said...

You said it perfectly, Matt. Censorship is bad. I don't want big brother deciding what my child should/could read. That's my job as parent!

I'm going to buy this book--right now.


Emily White said...

I've got a few thoughts on this matter.

1. Censorship is wrong. Period.

2. Though I certainly don't know the thoughts of this man who wants to ban Speak, I wonder if rather than saying a book about rape should be banned, he was actually speaking out against the graphic content and saying it is inappropriate for immature minds.

If he *was,* saying that, I can agree with him to an extent. However, I think he might have gone about it the wrong way. Books should never be banned because we have no right to say one person can't read something just because we don't agree with it. However, parents should be more involved with their child's education. Whether or not a student reads something should be at the discretion of the parents.

3. I haven't read Speak, but I do plan to. However, from the little I've heard about it, I do wonder if those within the YA range are ready for it. Eighteen year olds, yes. Twelve, though? I don't know about that one. Again, parents should be involved with this decision and that man should not have made such a sweeping demand.

4. I happen to be a Christian and I don't wholeheartedly agree with this man. I think it's dangerous for some to get angry at an entire community and is in many ways akin to banning books. I know you didn't say anything in particular about this, but these are my thoughts based on what I've heard from others.

5. I'm done, but things look so much better when they're rounded out like this. :D

Slamdunk said...

Good post Matthew and thanks for making me aware of the issue.

As a person with libtertarian views, having authorities ban books is not the answer--and as you point out, extremely difficult to enforce.

Bish Denham said...

Good job Matt. I have read Speak. And it is wonderfully written. The actually rape is not the whole book, it is (if I recall correctly) a scene near the end. And by that time the reader is well aware of what happened and it isn't a shock. It isn't pornographic at all.

And I HAVE to the respond to the second comment...If we ban and/or prevent all these various subjects from getting into schools and/or libraries and into the hands of children, then we must ban the horrors of all fairtales and the gruesome atrocities that are graphically portrayed in the Bible.

The point is, where do you stop? At what point is something OKAY or not OKAY to have in a school or library? And who decides?

As far as I know, parental supervision is the only censor needed, and that's only for the children of each parent, not everyone elses children.

Steve MC said...

Well said. In fact, about how banning a book only promotes it, Mark Twain had this to say on Huck Finn:

The Committee of the Public Library of Concord, Mass., have given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country. . . . That will sell 25,000 copies for us sure.

Steve MC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve MC said...

Emily - I’m with you on the concern about if twelve year olds are ready for it, but the awful truth is that children are far more aware of these issues than we think. A full 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12. And they need all the help they can get.

Melissa Gill said...

I read Speak for book club probably eight or nine years ago. We all found it moving, and we refer to it often as one of our great picks. To call any scene in that book softcore porn is rediculous. The difficult scenes were very discreetly handled. In fact now that some of the women in my book club have daughters entering their teens, we've talked about reading this again with the older girls. Any girl 14 or older probably should read this, because it can act as a cautionary tale about what can happen at a party.

This Scroggins, whoever he is, is probably just trying to stir up some publicity for himself. Just like that lunatic who wanted to burn the Koran a couple of weeks ago. Look at all they hype he got for his 50 person congregation.

There's always someone out there who's going to use an archaic or unpopular opinion to try to garner publicity. Choosing "Speak" which although it remains popular, is certainly not the breakout novel of 2010, tells me that he has some other agenda.

Colene Murphy said...

Totally agree with you! Great points, and I love all the blogs coming together for this one issue. Its wonderful. And so true about banning books only making them more desired. I hate that people want to do it and think they have a right, but it does raise a lot of good attention for that author too and lots of love.

Colene Murphy said...

And I think, having been a teen not too long ago, that they are underestimated. Can handle, should be ready to handle, and will be approached with things that if not exposed to the different outcomes of their choices will often make the wrong ones. (having made quite a few myself, not having been a big reader at the time) And any adult that says they think kids aren't ready to handle it are wrong. But thats my opinion.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Well said. It's hard to believe that people are still attempting to ban books. I understand why you wouldn't want a book like this in elementary school, but high schools? This book deals with a young high school girl, about something that happens to young high school girls all the time. It's not some made up Cujo or Freddie to scare the tar out of young kids. Rape IS scary, but it is REAL.

It's hard to maintain a balance, that desire to protect by sheltering and the longing to protect by arming them with knowledge. But I don't think banning a book from high schools is the answer. That just takes the choice away.

I do know this. Calling rape softcore porn is creepy and horrifying and further victimizes the victim. Scroggins should be ashamed.

Thanks for your post, Matt.

Unknown said...

I love the posts that are doing these shout-outs in lieu of the recent talk of banning the novel Speak!!!

Some made up a brilliant post about how if we aren't banning violent games, movies or television shows then why is the book industry taking such a huge hit? Why is it that when our kids read they are to read light and fluffy stories?

Food for thought? Maybe...

Michelle McLean said...

Ha! Wow, so true. Nothing spreads the word faster than something like this - and I hope Ms. Anderson's sales go through the roof :) I was watching Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra the other day and there is a scene where she is chewing out Julius Ceasar for burning down the library in Alexandria. The tail end of the tirade went something along the lines of "no one has the right to destroy one human thought."

Whether it be destroying, burning, or banning, it's always completely confounded me that someone thinks they have the right to determine what is or isn't acceptable for a whole community.

Karen Baldwin said...

I'm not sure what criteria some schools use to exclude certain books from their libraries. Seems if a kid really wants to read a book, they'll just go to the local bookstore. However, by Mr. Scroggins making such a fuss about Speak, he sure put Ms. Anderson's novel on millions of people's mind. So, I'm saying, thanks, Scroggins.

Lisa_Gibson said...

I couldn't agree with you more Matt! Very well thought out post. I plan on doing a post next week regarding banned books. You're not late to speak out. :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Old Kitty said...

Nope mustn't ban books or burn books or censure books - good grief what century are we living in?!?! I thought the Dark Ages were over!

Anyway!! I love your last para!

Take care

LTM said...

excellent points, Matt! And most of all, I think everyone is going to read SPEAK now... so you could add that censorship pretty much always backfires, too~ ;p

Elana Johnson said...

Another excellent post on this topic. I have read SPEAK and it is one of my favorite books. I reserve the right to censor it in my own house, with my own children--and that's it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think a lot of the problem lies in lazy parenting. "I don't have time to be involved in my children's lives." They don't want stuff out there so their kid won't see it or read it or listen to it and force those parents to get involved and discuss it with their kids.
I'd like to think that if I were a parent, I could lay a good enough foundation with my kids that they could handle stuff like that or that I'd be involved enough in their lives that I could remove the innapropriate material without relying on outside forces to do my job for me.

Ted Cross said...

Absolutely agreed. I don't believe there is much of anything that needs to be held back from kids. If they are old enough to ask a question about something, then I can find a meaningful way to speak to them about it, regardless of what it is.

Will Burke said...

Thanks for a great read -- I'll tell everyone to avoid it and never speak your name aloud! :)

Jeff Beesler said...

To censor is to try and tell others what to do (or not to do) and how to do (or not do) it. Certain individuals need to be in control so much that they will try to bring down anyone. Why? Because they're afraid of what they do not know/understand.

And rather than take the time to learn, they wallow in sweet ignorance. This is no way to live life. If it were, we never would've grown beyond living in caves.

Anonymous said...

Yup. If my books aren't banned, I'll think I haven't done something right.

Really, if the lines of communication are open between parents and children, what's the need for banning books? Isn't that abdicating one's responsibility as a parent to education oneself as to what one's children are reading? (There were way too many "ones" in that sentence.)

I agree. Across the board.

Serena said...

first of all thank you for the follow and joining in on the Location Blog fest Ill look forward to reading what you came up with.

I loved this post! its a very interesting debate isnt it to ban or not to ban simply on content.
As im british the one book that springs to mind Is; a clock work orange a horrendous book that covers extreem violence, rape and murder. The book was banned and so was the film when it was made. nOw on one hand i agree that certain books should be examined within schools i dont think and 12 year old me would have been able to swallow something like a clock work orange, but 5 years later in my final year i know i would have been able to look at it from a differnt persepective. (I didnt read it untill this year and im now 24) By then i was able to read it as a novel, a story a work of art simply showing the harsh and some what scary side of Human nature and society.
Just because you tell a story abot such things does not say that these are the views of the writer but could simply be them useing the medium they know best for them selves to understand these issues. Shouldn't every one therefore when they are ready to explore these differing understandings be able to? Hell dont most teens play Grand theift auto?
Any way i am blabbering now!

J Scott Savage said...

Great post Matthew. I wish more parents would realize that reading what their kids are reading, listening to the music they are listening to, watching the movies they are watching, and then talking about them with their children is tons more effective than banning them from media they can sneak in any time they want anyway.

vic caswell said...

you say it takes a village... and i wholeheartedly disagree. it takes a parent. a parent who will take the time to pay attention. who asks their teens about their lives, what they're reading, what they think about what they are reading.
as a parent, i don't want the village telling my kids what they can read, and what is shameful to read. i want to explain those things to them, and teach them to think their ways through issues like this.
as a parent, i want to shelter my kids from harm- but not shelter them from information. from the fact that other children have harder lives. from the fact that some of their friends are being hurt.
my mom and sister were both raped as teens, and to say that teens are incapable of understanding this book, while admitting that they are often victims of this crimme is absurd.
i understand purity. i understand what scroggins wants. but i agree with you. ignoring the issues doesn't make them disappear.

Anonymous said...


Myrna Foster said...

When people have a strong reaction, positive or negative, to a book, it's a compliment to the writer. Many of my favorite children's books have been banned. I'm a preschool teacher, and my students will say the words to BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, by Bill Martin, while I'm reading it. Yet I found it on a list of banned books.