Slack-Off Saturday: Banned Books Month

I’m spending this morning working on two stories, an old one that needs revision and a new ending, and a new one that I think might have started out as an homage to 1950s-era creature features before making a left turn somewhere in the Inland Empire and downhill to Innsmouth, perhaps. Both stories are frustrating me, but I feel pushed to finish them as well. Rarely has my Muse been so insistent that I finish something. Usually she figures that her job is to just tell me the stories; it’s up to me and the squad of Editorial Elves that live in the basement of my head to turn it into something people might want to read. This time, however, she is bound and determined to make sure I type “THE END” on these things, and in a good location, too… I’m not allowed to get away with just slapping an ending on after the main plot thread is resolved. In fact, that’s the problem she had with the story I’m revising, and I believe she is holding all of the rest of my ideas hostage until I finish it.

However, this isn’t fiction, so I can get away with typing it. This is yet another rant about Banned Books Week here in the US, which starts tomorrow. Or, as I’d like to call it, Spoiled Readers Equating Mild Inconvenience With Censorship and Fascism.

First of all, let me be clear that I think nearly any kind of censorship by any government is bad. Yes, I’m sure the contrarians among us can find edge cases where censorship is justified; works that specifically and purposesly incite violence against a person or group are one such case, stolen nude pictures of celebrities would be another. But by and large, governments have better things to do than block private consenting individuals from reading what they want to read. Parents and private companies censoring things? I don’t like it, but I also don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to intrude, either. And regardless of who or what is doing the censorship, it would seem that unless your control is complete and absolute (and in the USA, and thanks to Internet disemination, TOR browsers, WayBack machines, and vast caches of deleted material, it rarely is) the only thing an act of censorship will do is drive up demand for whatever is considered naughty. I think I’ve read two or three Playboy magazines since turning 18, and yes, I mean I really did read them, unlike the way I, err, perused them when I was 12 or 13. And the first time I tracked down a supposedly dirty book, I was bored with the blandness of it. (Then again, I started reading Stephen King when I was almost 12, so by the time I was in my late teens, I’d pretty much read it all, from canine-induced castration to sewer orgies.)

I do like how Banned Books Week calls attention to books that school districts have seen fit to remove either from their libraries or their reading lists, since it provides a window into what kids are reading, what adults are writing for them, and what scares their parents and teachers. And, well, those of us who remember their childhood… actually remember it and haven’t just painted a pleasant mural and plastered over the bad things… when we were in Junior High and High School, we all knew at least something about how people looked, how things worked, what drugs were, what abuse was, and how sexual and personal politics and bullying worked. We also all knew that it was hard to talk about it. Finding out that the adults allegedly in charge not only didn’t want us talking about it, they didn’t want other adults talking to us about it, lest we get ‘ideas’ or some such waffling and weak excuse, just made it that much harder to acknowledge or escape a bad situation. Indeed, at least one person I know had no idea she was being abused until she had a grade-school sex education class, and I’d be very surprised if her story is unique.

However, I still draw the line at calling what we do in this country ‘banning books.’ The books are still available. No one is getting jailed or killed because he has a copy of The Catcher in the Rye or Deenie. Police aren’t entering homes looking for copies of Ulysses. For that matter, when the people behind the publication of Ulysses wanted to force a court case in order to challenge its ban, they had to point out the book to the customs officer and insist he confiscate it. Even in the early 1980s in my tiny one-square-mile-town of Vernon, Michigan, we were able to find books if we really wanted them. And now, with more libraries than McDonalds in the US, and with many diverse sources of Internet distribution, it’s silly to say that a book is ever ‘banned’ in the US. It’s akin to a five-year old scraping his knee in the driveway and then screaming that his leg was chopped off. And one further note to school administrators:  kids and teens know about the Internet. If there’s a library in their town, or if they have a friend with Internet access (or if they have it) they are most likely going to find whatever you ban. Sorry to have to break it to you this way. It’s hard to plug a hole in a chain link fence.

Do your part to fight the removal of books from school and public libraries. If you have children, talk to them about what they read. That’s what my parents did. They only once told me that I wasn’t ready to read something yet but they also took their time to explain why, and I took their word for it. (Yes, this was before the hormonal shitstorm that was my combined experience of incipient bipolar disorder and puberty hit; I was able to talk rationally once in a while.) With other books and shows, they would explain what they didn’t like about it, or what they did like. That’s the absolute least you can do for your children, really. The same directive goes for librarians and teachers and administrators. Don’t ban the books. If you think it’s a piece of sensationalist sexist racist trash, explain why you think that and let people decide for themselves. And please, please, PLEASE stop calling the mild inconvenience of people living in the age of greatest literacy, intelligence, and information distribution ‘banning,’ or ‘fascism.’ You do nothing but show your unawareness of what the rest of the world is up to when you do that.

For my part, I’ve decided how I’m going to spend the rest of Banned Books Week. Every day I’m going to highlight (and in at least two of the cases, review) a book that was really and truly banned… meaning, people went to jail or died for publishing, diseminating, or reading this book. This is my effort to show that we really and truly are spoiled here in the US when so many cheap or free books are to be had virtually anywhere. Also, I hope to point out, as citizens of the world, that there is still work for us to do when it comes to setting information free. Comments are of course more than welcome.

Have a great week!

 

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