Sunday, 19 July 2009

Discussion: Censorship - What Way is Acceptable?

Luisa informed me about an article, Censorship in Action, from the Nicki’s View column on Health News, where Nicki, a teenager, rants against banning or burning books. Please read the article before continuing, so you know what I’m going on about.

So you’ve now read that she talks about how some people want sexually explicit books removed from the YA section of the library, or segregated, or be labelled that they are sexually explicit to warn teens and parents.

Surely, if a book is YA, it should be in the YA section so the young adults can find it? Removing it from YA I feel is out of order; they are Young Adult novels, for young adults. Why can’t they, or their parents, decide what they should or shouldn’t read? There is something seriously wrong with taking away the choice of whether or not they want to read a novel.

As you would have read in my review of Screwed by Joanna Kenrick, some librarians are refusing to stock it in their libraries because of the cover. In an email to me, Joanna said:

"The problem with the jacket, as I understand it, is that although it appeals to the teenage market, the booksellers and other adults involved in actually getting the book to the kids are too conservative. I did a talk last week to some school librarians – half of them said they would refuse to stock ‘Screwed’ in their school library, even if it were age restricted."

Refusing to stock a book that is so highly important in getting through to teens about some serious issues!

There’s something else I want to talk about on this subject in the comments, but I’m not entirely sure if it fits in with what was said above as I haven’t yet read the books, so I can’t be certain. If I say it in the comments, maybe someone else can correct or confirm.

I think I’m ok with the books being labelled. When my copy of Screwed by Joanna Kenrick arrived, there was a sticker on the front saying “Not suitable for younger readers”, and on the back, near the barcode it had “Warning: Explicit Content”. The same warning is on the back of Good Girls by Laura Ruby, and on Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill, the warning is actually part of the front cover design. I think this is all pretty fair, I know there are some teenagers who don’t want to read sexually explicit books, so I think the warning is good for them. I know some people disagree with parents deciding what they’re children can and can’t read, but I do – they’re going to know what their children are ready to deal with – so again, for the parents, I think this is fair.

You’ll also have read about some people wanting Baby Be Bop by Francesca Lia Block to be burned. I haven’t read this book, but I have a Dangerous Angels omnibus book with all the stories in the series in, because the series was something I may have done an essay on a few years back, but I know roughly about the stories. They don’t appeal all that much to me, but burning them?! How unbelievably outrageous! You have no idea how mad it makes me that people will actually suggest destroying books in some way, that’s just sacrilege to me. But going to such extremes to stop people reading a book?

So what do you think about all of this? Is there an acceptable way of keeping certain books out of certain people’s hands? Even if you disagree with censorship in general, it happens, so what’s the best way to go about it?


  1. The whole age labelling thing is tricky. I see your point, but I also know from experience that parents don't always know best. They don't necessarily know their kids or what they're ready for. Some parents just refuse to allow their teens to be exposed to any ideas other than the ones they believe to be right, which is not only far from fair but can do some serious harm. Imagine a gay kid born into a homophobic family and who can't even find solace in books. I think that after a certain age, it's just no longer possible to control what kids are exposed to. So you might as well just be open enough that they feel comfortable discussing what they read with you.

  2. That's actually a very good point, and I think I probably agree with you. But censorship does still happen, so what do you think would be the best way, the most acceptable way to do so? Is there some other way that may work better? Some forms are just out of order, in my opinion, but as it's going to happen no matter what, is there a compromise you'd be willing to accept?

  3. I'm lucky in the sense that my parents don't monitor my reading. I sometimes lend my mum books to read. I know what I want to read and whether or not I will enjoy it (usually) or if it'll be too adult. The only time I've ever known my mum to worry about a book was when I was 11. She asked my teacher if she thought it would be acceptable for me to read Anne Frank's Diary. My teacher said yes and I handled the book fine. I can understand small labels. I've read an adult book that was meant to be mystery only to be shocked by all of the swearing, sex and sexual references in it. The blurb didn't give me an inkling of any of this. So for this reason, I think labels just above the bar code on the back are fine. No one likes being lied to about the content in a book.

    As for banning books from the YA section, I have to disagree. I know some parents monitor their child's reading, but I have no experience of this so can only speak from my own opinion. Some people find a book, a book that helps them through life. Whether it's a book on EDs, self harming, struggling with your sexuality or any number of issues, they need that book. Books can help people confront problems and we don't have the right to take away something they may need. Librarians can advise people, but I think taking away their rights as a reader is wrong. I think librarians, parents and teenagers/younger children need to be more open with one another. Parents don't always know best. Discussing books can also show you have a deeper understanding of the book and can handle the cotent.

    I also want to say (this is getting long) that out of everything I have ever read in a book, I have seen worse things on TV and heard worse at school. This isn't just to emphasise my point, it's true. We are exposed to a lot more adult material nowadays through music, TV, magazines, school, and, of course, books. You can't censor the world.

  4. Amazing points there, Kate! You've touched on some things I talk about in future posts. Also, you may want to check out the "Who Says What?" post again; a video made by author hsa been added after heads up from another reader. I think you may find it interesting! :)

  5. I guess I don't mind if there was a rating system or warning on the books. What I'm afraid of (as mentioned here) is that this would get a book banned from a school library.

    I'm a parent of fifteen year old boys and there isn't much that I wouldn't let them read in the YA section. I don't think that just because they read about sex and violence, that is going to make them go out and do it. If I thought that then would be banned from the TV and video games. I wish that parents would give their kids a little more credit.