I went to my Crafty Book Club on Thursday and had a great time. Granted the attendance was low, only me, the Youth Services Librarian that runs the program and her teenaged son, but we talked the entire 2 hours about good books, banned ones and the ones we had read for the club. The Librarian had read Fifty Shades of Grey, that new erotic romance that is being dubbed as “mommy porn”. All the women I know are reading it, and I was wondering if it was any good. She pretty much said that it had just as much sex in it as other romances, but with light BDSM, and that the writing was pretty bad. She didn’t think she would read the second book and that pretty much made me lose interest in ever reading it. It’s funny because she compared it to Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, saying that “You know how bad Stephanie Meyer’s writing is in the series, well this woman’s [E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey] writing is even worse. According to this article from the UK Newspaper The Telegraph, James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey as “fan fiction”, in homage to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.” The book review article above  is actually quite good and funny, especially where they say that the book is “a middle-aged mum’s fantasy of what it might be like to kiss “beautiful” Robert Pattinson and tell him, “Have your wicked way with me, do whatever you like!”

Moving on, the real point of this post, which is about book censorship. I mentioned the above book because I read somewhere that libraries were trying to figure out whether or not to have it on their shelves, which is in and of itself, a form of censorship. This topic has always been a bit touchy of me because I’m never 100% sure how I feel about it. On one  hand, I believe in Intellectual Freedom and the right to free speech. I think Banned Book Week is important because it highlights books that people have tried to ban and you can discover some really excellent books that you might not have read otherwise. I mean let’s face it, people like to explore things that they know they’re not supposed to, liked books that are banned or places they’re not supposed to go etc. I think this is especially true with teens, who are trying to push the boundaries and see how far they can get. This is one reason I think Banned Book Week is targeted at them, although they do have children’s books on there as well. Here is the list of Banned/Challenged Books from 2010-2011, the most recent list. On the other hand, I agree with what this author said in this blog post about censorship, “I do believe in a parent’s right to keep an eye on what media their child is consuming and their right to remove items from the pool if they deem it necessary, but I do not believe it is one parent’s duty to police an entire school district’s reading material and choose what is appropriate for all students.”

I never realized that my parents may have been censoring what I read until I got to graduate school and had to do a project on banned books. The book that I eventually picked, Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, I had never heard of before even though it would’ve come out when I was about 12. I thought the whole concept of the book was interesting, i.e. Eric staying fat for Sarah because she’s got these serious burns over her face (they’ve been friends forever partly due to the fact that he’s obese and she’s scarred) and trying to navigate life together as two teenagers. I’m not gonna lie, the book is filled with reasons why a parent or concerned adult might want to ban it: the 30+ drops of the f-bomb and other curse words, discussions of physical/emotional abuse, suicide, abortion, masturbation, child neglect and more. It’s not an easy book to read at times, but there is a redemptive quality about the book that makes it awesome. Susannah Scheffer says it best in this article:

There are no easy, television endings to [this book]. Good does ultimately triumph over evil, but people remain just as complex as they ever were, and there’s no suggestion that they forgive or heal quickly. In Crutcher’s world, the weak don’t necessarily become strong all of a sudden, and the evil don’t necessarily see the light and repent. Yet the strong, the courageous, the good people do somehow manage to persevere. Love, loyalty, and risk do triumph, so that even if we aren’t left feeling hopeful about humanity in general, we are left feeling a passionate desire to be one of the adults who deserves kids’ trust. These aren’t just books for kids, and they aren’t even just for adults who like young adult literature. They’re for those of us who share Crutcher’s commitment to being one of the good ones, one of the people who does what’s necessary. May we live up to the standard he sets.”

If you are interested in learning more about Intellectual Freedom, check out the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The Kids’ Right to Read Project is an organization that is part of the National Coalition against Censorship, which promotes freedom to read what you want and advocates for people fighting against book challenges/bans. I like that they include a Book Censorship Toolkit for teachers, parents and kids, and authors, as well as an LGBTQ Right to Read page. For teachers, there is an Anti-Censorship Center through the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). There’s also the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CLBLDF) which is very active in issues of free speech and censorship.