Monday, September 29, 2008

Free People Read Freely. And Awesomely.

Hooray! It's Banned Books Week! Oh, how I love Banned Books Week. I'm wearing my "I Read Banned Books" shirt, and I have a stack of Frequently Challenged books on my desk for consumption this week.

I love Banned Books Weeks SO much that back when I worked at the Black Hole of Suck, I actually got into a "fight" (that was conducted solely by email, so, you know, as far as epic battles go, it was kinda lame) with the Evil Nazi Librarian who worked there. I asked her to come talk to my kids about BBW, and she flat out refused, saying that she "didn't want to bring attention to that kind of literature." You know, like Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, both frequently challenged books, and both on the state curriculum for English. Yeah. I ended up getting my friend, Not At All Evil or Nazi-ish, But Awesome Librarian Who Worked At Another School, to come talk to the kids instead.

(However, Evil Nazi Librarian DID frequently bring the LOLs. An example: She wouldn't let kids bring backpacks into the library, due to her general Evil And Nazi ways. Well, one time, one of my kids forgot this rule and brought his backpack into the library when we went in there to work on research papers. THE HORROR.

So she chewed him out like he'd brought a gun in there, and I sent him back to the room to drop off his bag. ENL scurried up to me and said, "The principal doesn't want backpacks in here." And I humored her and said, "Right, because the kids might take stuff." I mean, that seemed to be the most logical reason for the no backpack rule, right? WRONG. She shook her head gravely and said, "There was a student in Florida who tripped over a backpack in the library and broke his neck against a table. And died."

So yeah. No backpacks in the library because the kids MIGHT DIE. I swear, you can't make that stuff up. It's right up there with Duck Language Girl in terms of WTF-ness.)

Anyway, if you've never checked out the ALA's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books and prepare to have your mouth drop open as you see such titles as Harry Potter, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Golden Compass, The Color Purple, Huckleberry Finn, and the above mentioned Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Notice most of these books are challenged due to sexual content and/or bad language. As I used to tell my kids when we discussed Banned Books Week, if you read Of Mice and Men, and all you take away from it are the curse words, then I feel really sorry for you. Likewise, if you read The Color Purple, and all you get out if it is the sexual aspect, then I say, "Um... what the hell?"

I guess the main thing that bugs is that it's one thing if you don't want your child to read a book. I mean, I'm a parent, so I get that. You get to make that call for your kid if you want to. But don't try to take a book away from my child just because you don't like it. And don't reduce a masterpiece of American literature like Of Mice and Men to a book about a bunch of guys who say "goddamn" and "son of a bitch." I mean, come on.

The other thing I hate about trying to take books out of libraries is that it really belittles kids, who are so much smarter and more discerning than many adults want to give them credit for. Book banners seem convinced that some of this literature is dangerous to kids, like if they read about sex, they'll just wanna run right out and get them some of that.

To which I say: Whatevs.

When I was around 12 or 13, I ran out of YA books to read. Back in the early 90s, there wasn't much in the way of YA anyway, so once I'd exhausted the Sweet Valley Highs, and Babysitters' Clubs, and Lois Duncans ( to whom people should really give more love. Lois Duncan was da bomb, what with the families trapped in time, and the astral projections, and the schools for psychics... good stuff!), I turned to the adult section of Walden Books, and I turned to romances in particular. Over the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, I read everything Jude Deveraux had ever written, and some of her earlier stuff was very Old Skool Romance. For those of you who've never read Old Skool Romance, the plots go something like this:

HERO (who is totally hawt knight/duke/king): Hello, young virginal lass. You are quite beautiful and have boobs which I shall now fondle even though we just met and that is completely inappropriate behavior.

HEROINE (who IS young and virginal and beautiful, and so naive, she borders on mentally challenged): Wow. You are totally hawt and all this boob touchage has awakened naughty feelings within me.

HERO: Let's get married so that I might see you naked.


Day before the wedding, HERO spies HEROINE hugging some dude who eventually turns out to be her brother/cousin/old family friend who is a eunuch.

HERO: OMGWTFSLUT!!! I am betrayed!

Wedding Night

HERO: I now know that you are NOT innocent and virginal, but a damnable wenchy ho-bag! And now I shall have rough sex with you that borders on rape!

HEROINE: Oh noes!

HERO: *rapes*

HEROINE: *kinda likes it*

200 more pages of angst and angry sex.

HERO: Oh, my love, I am sorry that I thought you were a damnable wenchy ho-bag after I saw you hugging your brother/cousin/family friend who is a eunuch. I totes love you now, and I see the error of my ways. Let us never be apart!

HEROINE: Oh, it's okay. I mean, sure I ended up imprisoned in a nunnery, and my house burned down, and I nearly dies of pneumonia, and I was sold into prostitution, and one of your men killed my brother/cousin/family friend who is...was... a eunuch, and all of this happened because you couldn't be bothered to just be like, "So, hey, who was that guy you were hugging?" You are hawt and give me multiple orgasms and I love you too!"


Books like that? All I read from the ages of 13 to about 18. And did I ever once think to myself, "You know, I HAVE to get me one of these biplor semi-rapist guys! CLEARLY, this is what adult relationships are like!"

Have I ever now, as an adult, asked The Husband, "How come you never rip my bodice? I have all these bodices, just sitting here on my body, totally unripped."

No. Because I am not a total dumbass.

And did these books cause me to turn into some sort of crazed nympho who couldn't even be bothered to go to school as she was always on the hunt of hawt men? I continued being a nerdy, bookish kid whose love of romance novels gave her a huge vocabulary, which led to her winning totally nerdy things like English Tournament trophies (SHUT UP!) and getting a high ACT score, which led to getting into a good college and getting an English degree, which led to becoming a perfectly respectable English teacher, and then to becoming a (so far!) succecssful writer.

So yeah. Naughty books? Not really all that bad for you!

So when these people who try to ban books assume that all kids are complete morons who are going to run out and do something just because they read it in a book, it really pisses me off. It underestimates teenagers, and if there's one thing teaching taught me, it's that you should never do that. Let kids read what they want, or they'll end up turning away from reading for good. And as an author who REALLY wants kids to buy her book, we can't let that happen! ;)

Now, all that said, I am SO hoping that Demonglass gets challenged at some point, because that would make me edgy, and there's nothing this WASP-y, private school-educated, Xanadu listening-to girl would love more than to be edgy.

Of course, there isn't much naughty language in Demonglass. Or drugs. Or sex. BUT STILL. It does have the word "demon" in the title. That has to be worth something, right?

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Cafe Press to have a shirt made up that says, "I Write Banned Books."

Never hurts to be prepared!


Corked Wine and Cigarettes said...

Dewd. Get this: My book is about what happens when you ban books! Banning books can cause things like…teh endz of da worldz! Srsly. Read all about it.

Oh. And as far as future banned books? You can totally hold a space open for mine (if I get published). I basically say that the compiling of the books of the Bible by Constantine was done so in error, and the most important book was deemed heretical and thus, banned. So, Bible = Mistake.

Yeah. That should go over super-well in our state.

Rachel Hawkins said...

OMG, Stephen, we are SO going to be tarred and feathered and run out of AL on rails! What dangerous literary rebels we shall be, with our YA about demons and Bibles that are wrong. I can't wait!

BTW, your book sounds most excellent! I love that kind of stuff!

Anonymous said...

You're like the wind through my tree.

Corked Wine and Cigarettes said...

Will we need an Evil Superfortress of DOOM to slink off to? I think we're at least entitled to that.

It must, however, be totally impervious to pitchforks. The latest Census of American Farmtools shows Alabama leading in its pitchfork population.

I'm sure you knew this already. Not good news for us.

Rachel Hawkins said...

Anonymous: You are SO not anonymous to me, for your deep love of Patrick Swayze lyrics gives you away! And to you I say that you ride the night next to me. You lead me thorugh moonlight only to burn mw the sun. You've taken my heart, and you don't know what you've doooooooooone. ;)

Stephen: That is BAD NEWS. And sadly I have no Evil Superfortress of DOOM! However, I DO have my grandparents basement room in Centerpoint, which would probably do in a pinch. It's probably not impervious to pitchforks, but it has shag carpeting and there are bound to be snacks, so there's that. You'll have to rob the Trussville Captain D's of all its coleslaw, though. That is the only offering my grandparents would accept in return for shelter from the angry mob.

Maureen Lipinski said...

Yeah, but...those Baby-Sitters Club books sure did make me want to start a club when I was in middle school. But, not like one where you'd have to babysit or anything, because kids = ew.

Carrie Harris said...

OMG. Speechless with laughter = me. Did you raid my bookshelf? I think I still HAVE some of those books.

I'm totally banned. Or pre-banned. Whatever. I wrote a YA comedy with pedophiles in it. I need one of those shirts. Can we start a club with a secret handshake or something?

Amie Stuart said...

>>damnable wenchy ho-bag

U Make M Howlz

There's a list of the top 100 banned books on my blog if ur interested. FYI My mom read Are You There God...before me, but let me read VC Andrews (helloooooooo incest!) And hey no dissing JUDE! LOL heeh

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