Archives for posts with tag: banned books

In communities all across the country, challenges to published fiction and efforts to ban books that offend some readers have been mounted for decades.  The reasons vary.  But, in general, this wry definition of a “censor” is usually apt:  “A censor is someone who knows more than he thinks you ought to.” A piece in the Atlantic earlier this month poses the question: Who Should Decide What High School Kids Are Allowed to Read?

And how is a book to be fairly evaluated?  It’s worth noting that the strongest advocates for banning a given book very often have not read the book themselves.  They’ve read “the bad parts,” if anything.  J.D. Salinger’s classic coming-of-age novel has had a bad reputation ever since it was published, more than 60 years ago. Once, while I was teaching high school English, I found in the book room an unopened carton of the Salinger novel, ordered by another teacher and never used. So I brought the books to my classroom of college-level freshmen–but took care to explain that some people had, long ago, found the book objectionable. Therefore, if a student did not want to read the book for any reason, I would assign another book to that student. The next day one boy delivered to me a note from his mother. It read, “I do not want my Bobby reading that book Catch Her in the Rye.”

When it appeared in 1977, my first novel was welcomed with considerable praise from The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Newsday, and many others.  The American Library Association named HARD FEELINGS a Best Book of the Year for Young Adults.  Partly on that account, the novel was purchased by high school librarians from Bangor to San Diego. 

The book ran into trouble in those communities (like my own here in northern Vermont), where some parents raised objection to the frank, if humorous, treatment of adolescent sexuality and the exuberant proclivity among some teenagers for the use of profanity.  HARD FEELINGS weathered those local tempests well for the most part, although the novel is still on some banned book lists here and there.

With the release of POLLY AND THE ONE AND ONLY WORLD just weeks away, my publisher, Green Writers Press, and I anticipate the likelihood of similar challenges, though this time for different reasons.  The story is set in a much-diminished America called the Christian Protectorates. The new government, formed in the wake of devastating cataclysms that are not explained, is a stifling theocracy. The story’s villains, then, are fundamentalists afflicted by the delusions that may often be inspired by biblical history and mythology.  Involuntary servitude is legal, for example, while public libraries are not.

At the start of the novel, the Faith and Redemption Amendment has just become law.  By its mandate “all the heretics, apostates, and followers of false creeds anywhere in the Protectorates had 90 days to register for assignment to a ReBirthing facility or apply for bondservant status. Anyone who failed to comply with the FRA, citizen or outlier, would face arrest and exile, consignment to a work camp, or death.”  Polly, a witch by blood and practice, must either hide or seek safety in exile–or else face certain arrest and likely execution.  Needless to say, some readers are bound to be offended by the depiction of Christians as hateful oppressors—and also of witches as heroic figures.  So, if the book gets attention, I’m afraid we’re bound to meet with calls for banning, particularly in the schools. 

Which raises the question posed a few days ago in the Atlantic:  Who Should Decide What High School Kids Are Allowed to Read?  It’s a question worth pondering.