I agree with your sticking points – especially the stuff about gendering behaviour and especially in fantasy worlds where you don’t even have to play by the rules of modern culture or Earth culture at all! See: Ursula K. LeGuin for how to do this awesomely.
I think it’s funny that we both had the same initial idea for a blog post about banned books (that we then self-censored): list the books that we’d like to ban. (Here is R’s previous post on the subject.)
Of course, we don’t want to ban any books (at least I don’t, but I know you have a thing against Thoreau). But sometimes I do feel like banning Banned Books Week. Please don’t revoke my librarian card.
I admire how Banned Books Week puts a spin on the depressing fact that there are people and organizations who continue to wrongheadedly follow a lizard fear instinct and try to keep books that they’ve probably never read off of library shelves, or books published for teenagers out of the teen section, or off of a supplementary reading list for a high school. Banned Books makes these books into the bad boyz of the book world, in effect saying “any publicity is good publicity”!
And it may well be for us adult readers – are teenagers paying any attention, though? They’re probably just reading things that they enjoy. Which may well include books that other people want to ban, or books that adults don’t yet know that they should be afraid of.
I know that challenges to books happen with a regularity that I wish weren’t so regular, but I also wish that the Banned Books stuff wasn’t concentrated in one week. And I feel like it’s pretty concentrated within a certain set of people – people like you and I. We care about not challenging the right of books to be available on bookshelves. We like talking and reading about things that make us uncomfortable. But am I going to bring it up with Josephine Shmoe on the street? And is she going to go out of her way to read “banned” literature or fight a book challenge? Probably not and no. But I’m an introvert.
I will defend a book and the freedom to read, but I’m not going to wheel a cart of the most frequently challenged books down a street and advocate for them simply because they scare someone. I do think that those books are good books on their own merits – - why not just give people a library card?
On the other hand, playing Devil’s Advocate to my Devil’s Advocate, Banned Books Week could just come down to book lovers reinforcing their love of books and supporting challenged authors? If so, that’s fine. Those authors and librarians and booksellers who defend book challenges definitely need the support. I wish there were a way to do that AND to actually find a way to stop the challenges en masse. But the best way that I can think of is one-on-one conversations, and a hope that more people chill out about books.
Let’s do more research studies on the effects of reading uncomfortable books! Let’s show that it actually will not hurt anyone. Let’s follow the readers of uncomfortable books through their childhood and see what happens. I’ll keep trusting people to read what they want to read and stop reading if they don’t like it. I can only say from experience that as a teen I sought out things in books that I wanted to read about, and my parents, had they known, wouldn’t think I was ready to read about them (and one time I was forbidden to read some books I got out of the library) (but I was just more careful after that). Along the way I learned trivia and vocabulary and stayed out of real trouble. But that’s just an anecdote, not evidence. Where’s my reading science? We can start with the reading habits of lab rats if we must.
But seriously, what I find more insidious than book challenges is the instinct that you and I identified when we made a joke about books that we want to ban – the second guessing that becomes self-censorship. It’s a real danger in the field of librarianship – from not ordering a book because someone might complain about it to not displaying books that you think have any “objectionable” content, to not wanting to booktalk a great title because of the reaction that the classroom might have when you mention that the main character is g-a-y.
I propose that we declare one day a month Uncomfortable Book Day. On that day we can discuss an Uncomfortable Book with a friend, put an uncomfortable book face out at a bookstore (if you can find one) or think about a book that makes you uncomfortable in the comfort of your own home. Unpack your uncomfortability and give it an airing. A sea change could happen if we find new ways to own up to Reading Uncomfortable! Just think!
this discussion on a new blog between a librarian mom and son about books that make them/the reader uncomfortable. http://crossreferencing.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/books-that-make-us-uncomfortable/
A graphic novel about a book challenge in a library (I know, total bait for librarians, but it is good):