Saturday, May 1, 2010

Random Thoughts on Book Censorship

I was at the library today (where else would I spend a soggy morning but at one of my favourite places in the world?), and I had an interesting experience while I was there.  There was this boy, somewhere around ten years old, wandering around the juvenile book cases for quite a while, being very selective with his books.  It's so unlike me, I'm a whirling dirvish in the library, that I was intrigued.  After selecting his books he happened to sit next to me and began to read.  Then his mother appeared and as soon as she saw what he was reading, she had an absolute fit.  And I mean FIT!  She went on and on about how he was not going to bring that filth into her house and how that FILTH was going to corrupt his mind, and under no circumstances was he going to be reading anything with witches, ghosts, werewolves or anything of that kind as anyone who does so has made a pact with the devil. She wanted all those books removed from the shelf and she would darned well see to it as soon as she could. I was so shocked and I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  The poor boy was in tears and my own daughter didn't know what to do either.  He put his books quietly on the table as she went on raving.  My daughter asked me what was going on and all I could say was that his mother didn't want him to read certain books because she thought they would corrupt him.  And the thing that amazed me the most was his book selections:  Harry Potter, Charlie Bone, and Tunnels. 

The whole thing stayed with me for quite a while afterwards and I also had to explain to my daughter what happened as she didn't understand.  It made me think of several history periods when books were burned:  one memorable incident at Oxford University in the 1500s comes to mind very quickly as many books were supposed to have been burned because they were heretical, but loyal scholars smuggled them out at their own risk to protect them.  I also had to read The Cheese and The Worms by Carlo Ginzburg in university, and this story tells of a 16th century miller who was executed by the Inquisition because of his love of reading books.  Knowledge was considered dangerous during these times.  Martin Luther is known for his burning of Jewish texts when they refused to convert, and the Nazis were famous for their destruction of many texts during the 2nd World War.  Even today, many schools have bans on certain texts because they contain content that is deemed inappropriate for students.  The Merchant of Venice was not allowed to be read at my old high school because of its Jewish content; it was because of this ban that I went and read it anyways and I certainly did not appreciate Shakespeare when I was 16 like I do now.

I thought of the boy then, and wondered how he would find a way to read those books he was longing to read.  And make no mistake about that, he WANTED to read those books.  I saw the look in his eyes when he put those books back on the table; it is the same look in every book lover's eye when they have to put something back on the shelf they desperately want, but just can't buy at that moment.  It's a HUNGER, a DESIRE, and I knew he would find a way to read those books somehow.  And I wondered if that desire has grown because he has been denied what he wanted.  I thought about all those books on my shelf and wondered how I would react if someone decided to destroy my biography of Celine Dion Henry VIII or Marie Antoinette or the Knights Templar, or my copies of Demonfire, Shiver, Rebecca or Pride and Prejudice.   And I hoped with all my heart he would find a way (and that somebody would help him) because no one should be denied a book to read.  And I will work very hard to ensure that someone like that women does not succeed at ensuring that those books get removed from my shelves or from my daughter's or my son's.  I want them to have the right to choose.

What are your thoughts on the matter?


  1. I live in what is considered the Bible Belt and there are a lot of Christians around here that have an issue with Harry Potter. I don't get it. There's never any suggestion of worshiping the devil, cult behavior, or whatever other excuse they think of to say that the series is bad. Honestly, I'm disgusted by them. For one, I am a Christian myself and I read a TON of supernatural books. Does it make me think, "Wow, these are great. I think I'm going to go blaspheme my Lord and Savior now."? Um, no.

    Off of my whole soap box about the whole Christian thing (I seriously could talk about it for hours), I personally think that any book that would grab my child's attention is enough to like it. Sure, when children are small, we may want to keep them away from more adult-themed books. But children have very short attention spans. If a book can capture that attention and hold it, we should see that as a good thing. If a child decides to sit down and actually read instead of getting online or playing video games, we should see that as a very good thing. Books do nothing but spark their imagination and encourages them to use their own creativity. If you take that away from them, you take away the joy of being a child.

  2. I really feel for that boy! That mother has no idea how she is killing his desire to read and how much she could actually be jeopardizing how well he does in school through a lack of reading comprehension! Oh man, that really raises my ire, I so wish I could do something for him. I would never, ever discourage a child from wanting to read.

  3. I recently retired from working in a library and the stories I could tell....

    Needless to say, I am not at all for censorship. While I respect this woman's right to guide her son's reading, in my experience, banning something from a child is tantamount to ensuring that they will acquire it in some other manner. And the idea that she could get 'those things' off the shelves at the library is ridiculous. She may have the right to keep her son from checking them out, but not to keep them from others. I feel that parents should read books with their children and spend time talking about them. I suspect that this woman has never read any of those books before and has no idea what is included in them.

    Sigh. It's a tragic thing and an action that she will likely regret as her son gets older.

  4. I don't think my parents ever stopped me reading a book (though I do recall being told I couldn't watch a film), more so they encouraged me to read and I felt held back by the books the school offered.

    I do think (and hope) that at some point that child will get to read those books, whether it's in a school library or maybe at a friend's house. A child's will is fairly strong and I think he'll want to read them even more so now.

  5. Holy cow! I don't even know what to say. You're absolutely right that she has just made him want to read them even more. I just can't follow that leap from "I don't want my kid to read it" to "I don't want ANYONE to read it because I'm the boss of the world I know what's best for everyone!" Self-righteous jerks.