Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day 14: My Thoughts

Day 14. It's almost over, but, as always, I leave you with some thoughts cobbled together from the pieces of my rather book-centric brain. :)

I wanted to talk about something practical this year, something important. Something that made me think. Something rather recent. Diversity in YA would've been a great topic, it is a great topic, we need diverse books to be read more and discussed more and published more and promoted more. But I felt that if I talked about diversity, I would be talking while everyone around me is screaming. So many other bloggers and authors have discussed the desire for diversity far more eloquently and passionately than I ever could, and so I would suggest you go read their words (like those of Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon, Ellen Oh, #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter, and many many others).

This year, I thought about the practice of banning books. Which is curious because it's just not done here.

Except for recently, when a father from Kamloops, BC went to his teenage son's school district and demanded they ban The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky because "students in Grade 10 shouldn't be reading a book with contents this vulgar" (quoted from this article by the CBC, March 26 2014). The article ends with the news that the man's son was given a different book to study.

I remember Twitter sort of exploding (because it's Canada) when this story broke. It just sounded so ludicrous. Banning books? In Canada? In 2014? Really?? There were more than a few tweets from people who said something along the lines of "but it's a great book" or "this guy's nuts" or "no Bible for his family, then" or "no way, that book saved me in high school."

Apparently, on April 28, a decision was made by the Kamloops School District in regards to the request (read, demand) to have The Perks of Being a Wallflower banned. I discovered yesterday in a new article that they decided not to ban the book, good for them, but that the father won't stop and will consider legal action. He considers Perks to be pornography. ... I think he needs someone to define pornography for him, because I don't think this book is it.

In Grade 11, my English class read Show Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, because my English teacher didn't like Lord of the Flies. It was fine with me, Flies didn't sound interesting. Have you read Snow Falling on Cedars? There's swearing, there's violence (both in and out of war), there's racism, and there's a fair amount of sex. But I don't remember it being a big deal. It was a novel study. It just was. Like reading Shakespeare, or that short story The Lottery where the woman gets stoned at the end.

I just find book banning to be so outdated, like we've traveled back in time to the Middle Ages. It's so restrictive and filled with fear and hatred and bigotry. I don't think I was ever told to not read a book because it might contain violence, swearing, sex, rape, or drug abuse. I think it was because my parents knew me, and they knew that I knew that, while whatever happened in the pages of a book wasn't real, some of the events could happen, and it was up to me to learn from that.

I don't know how I would've felt if I'd been told to not read a book because of its contents. I think I would've been really confused and sad, and asked why. Book are meant to share, to teach, to escape and experience through a different pair of eyes, touch through a different pair of hands. Banning books feels like cutting off a limb.

I'm sure most of you have heard of the recent banning of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian in Idaho and the subsequent absolutely awesome actions of local teens to hand out free copies of the book only to get tattled on to some rather confused cops. Those teens were awesome to do that. And those parents who called the cops? I have to wonder what else they would take offence to.

There is a page on Wikipedia titled "Book censorship in Canada." It says, quote, "Banning books is not a common practice in Canada at the current time." It is then followed by a list of seven books once banned at one point by various levels of Canadian government. SEVEN. I'm surprised it got all the way up to seven, really. I checked and I think one of those books is still banned, classified as "hate literature" by the government.

In Canada, we have Freedom to Read Week. This year it ran from February 23 to March 1. 2014 was the 30th year of Freedom to Read Week. Banning books isn't done a lot in Canada, but I love that we still speak out against it.

I think that's why I always get confused when I heard about a book being challenged or banned in the US or in a different country, because it just doesn't happen here. And when it does come up in the news, it just sounds wrong, like it's a news story about a pig learning to fly a spaceship. It just doesn't make sense to me.

What are your thoughts on banning books? What do you think about how it's very rarely done in Canada?


  1. Unsurprisingly, I'm completely against it. I think it's completely ridiculou and has no benefit whatsoever.

    But - I will say this, I wonder if it's more common in smaller communities? I went to a school that banned a lot of books (like Harry Potter in particular). We weren't allowed to have them at school, we were discouraged from discussing them, etc. (Private school, I should add)

    I think Canada tends to be a bit more libertarian than other places, but it seems to me that it still happens on a small scale. Still, very disconcerting.

    Brenna from Esther's Ever After

  2. I don't consider removing a book from a school library or curricula "banning". My daughter's school library will likely not purchase copies of my verse novels. That's because it's an elementary school and those books aren't suitable for kids that age. But those kids are free to check my books out from the public library, or better still, buy them!

    I don't think kids should be forced to read ANY book they find objectionable for any reason in order to pass their classes. We don't force Muslim girls to dance in PE (women dancing is forbidden by some strict Muslims) nor do we force Jews to cook bacon in Home Ec. Conducting a pork-free cooking class at school wouldn't even be thought of as banning pork; it would be called "inclusion". People have different ideals, which is their individual choice. Normally we celebrate this, but when it comes to books we all become liberal fascists. This father who wanted to ban Perks had no right to force his views on other kids, but if he didn't want HIS son reading it, that's a legitimate choice. Perhaps we're not hearing the part of the story where his son tried to get out of this part of his class. I actually agree with the father that grade ten kids shouldn't have books like Perks in their curricula. Most English teachers aren't equipped to properly discuss the very serious issues at the heart of this story, let alone wrangle thirty 15 year-olds into giving it the consideration it deserves. I'm all for kids reading it on their own, and mulling it over in private though. The kid who has just discovered jerking off, who is feeling suicidal, who has been molested, who might be bisexual etc etc can decide for themself whether they want to talk about these things, not be pressured into it in front of their friends and a 24 yr old teacher who barely passed Psych 100.

    The simplest thing to do would be to ban novel study all together (which I'm in favor of by the way). I don't think there is any good reason to remove a book like Perks or Sherman Alexie's book from a school library but where IS the line drawn? Is 50 Shades of Grey okay? What about Dino Porn? Students and parents SHOULD have a say in what is being read in school. I had to read ALIVE (a non fiction about cannibalism) in high school. I was traumatized.

    Much of this book banning discussion comes from a very privileged place. Very few books are actually banned in Canada, and even less in the USA (their free speech laws are much freer than ours). There are places in the world where books are genuinely banned. Like not in schools, not in libraries, not for sale. North Korea is such a place for example. One of the books banned is the Holy Bible. What do we think of that?