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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Self-Censorship: Why I Might Throw Away But Never "Ban or Burn"

“The Nazis are about to start burning books!  I don’t know if I can go on!”

This was from my amazing ten-year old nephew, a book-loving brainiac, all around great guy and first-time reader of “The Book Thief.”

I recently saw an online photo of a monument in Germany aimed at reminding us of the time when many, many books were burned because they contained what the Nazi’s deemed “inappropriate.”  (I think that mostly meant anti-Nazi sentiment).

The thought of burning books is horrifying to me, to my soft-hearted nephew, and to so many others.  Why?  Books represent so much.  The collective learning and knowledge of millennia.  Alternate universes that can be visited briefly or over and over again throughout a lifetime.  Places that only exist in our minds but become part of us. 

Perspectives vastly different from your own.

Thoughts, statements or stories that you may find offensive and in complete opposition to your world view, political opinions, or sense of morality or taste.

That to me is why so often, various individuals or groups have wanted to remove certain books from libraries, bookstores, and homes.  Thankfully, I haven’t heard of many widespread book-burning parties since World War II, though I could be wrong.  I have, however, heard of many times when individuals or groups complained to libraries and schools, demanding that certain books be removed.

Many, many books out there are offensive to me.  Some offend me in a minor way.  This includes books that are poorly written but that are still on the shelves.  Yes, that’s offensive to me!  J  Something else has bothered me for a few years.  The Twilight novels seemed to set a new trend.  I call this the “obligatory love triangle.”  I’m disgusted by the sheer number of Young Adult books where the author sets up bizarre and frankly improbable situations in order to create such a scenario.   I actually met an author who was frustrated because her agent couldn’t sell her YA fantasy novel.  Why?  Publishers thought it was great but didn’t want it because there was no love triangle.  Really?  Come on!

There are also books that truly offend me on a deeper level.  This includes books that contain extreme violence and a lot of profanity.  It also includes extensive, detailed sexual content that doesn’t even need to be in the story, but is there for obvious reasons (think of the high volume of Harlequin “Romance” novels and other such drivel).  Violence against women.  Depictions of child molestation.  There’s a whole lot of this garbage out there, in books.  Again, as hard as it is to say it, I still defend the right of these authors to write this trash, and of libraries and stores to display and sell it.

I won’t read it.  When I come into contact with such a book, I’ll return it to the library unread, and if I happen to have bought the book, I’ll likely toss it out instead of passing it on to my kids, but I won’t demand that my library remove the book from its shelves.  I won’t complain to the school about the kinds of books they make available to my kids, either.  Why? Because I believe in the freedom of speech.  I believe in the freedom of the individual to speak or write anything he or she chooses.

I met an author a few years ago whose books are full of profanity and deal with, well, “sensitive” issues.  Schools have been pressured to remove his books from their libraries.  I personally can’t stand the way this guy writes.  I think he uses profanity as a crutch, and for shock value.  But if I believe in freedom of speech, I’ll defend his right to create such books.   I’ll defend the right of libraries and bookstores to display and sell his work. 

I believe in “self censorship.”  To me, that means that I choose which books I will read, and which books I will not read.  I don’t want anyone else to make that choice for me.  I don’t want to make that choice for another person, either.  When I come across something that offends, I will make the choice to close the book.  I hope to teach my children the same thing. 

So, if you are an author I don’t like, don’t worry.  I won’t start piling up your books and looking for the matches. 

I might badmouth you in my blog, however.  J



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