50 Shades of Censorship

So public libraries in several states across the country have made the decision to pull the “50 Shades of Grey trilogy” from their shelves – and other libraries have decided not to order it at all. Not too long ago the Hunger Games trilogy experienced a similar fate – violence was the prevalent issue with this series. Some libraries have suggested the 50 Shades trilogy is too steamy and better yet others have suggested it is poorly written – paying no mind that “50 Shades” has become a best-selling worldwide phenomenon that has catapulted author E.L. James from relative unknown to superstardom. Shouldn’t libraries stock what people want to read? And these libraries are clearly saying they have the power to decide what people read. As library use dwindles with the continued growth of E-readers, Ipads, and online retailers like Amazon, the American Library Association should be encouraging libraries to appeal to a greater audience. While I myself have not read the books, and have heard from friends that the writing would not meet my standard for eloquent prose, there is no escaping the fact that EVERYONE is talking about this series....a trilogy that was borne of Twilight fanfiction originally. While I myself was not a fan of the equally popular Twilight series nor the vampire genre as a whole, as an English teacher I would be lying if I didn’t say that the fact that so many students were walking around the building with one of the books in hand didn’t make me smile. It made kids (ok…mostly girls) excited about reading and that was endorsement enough for me.

But of even greater importance is that this is censorship and censorship is dangerous. When do we stop? Where do we draw the line? And who makes that decision? There are many books that currently sit on library shelves with “questionable” content and even more books that are taught in high schools across the country that someone somewhere would find questionable. The same libraries that refuse to shelve “50 Shades” offer their patrons Lolita by Nabokov – one of the most controversial examples of 20th century literature; however that book also made the World Library’s list of 100 best books of all time. So what standard is being followed? Should we remove Macbeth from our curriculum because of the violence and witchcraft? Who decides what is appropriate?

Sanitized stories rarely have anything to offer – it is the more complex and controversial themes that stir us – it is often the evocative that challenges our thinking and our perceptions and makes us question ourselves. These are the books worth reading – these are the experiences worth having. It is why ironically the list of the most popular banned books in schools contains some of the greatest in the literary cannon – Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I am by no means comparing “50 Shades” or Twilight, or the Hunger Games to any of the aforementioned – but as a teacher and as an author I can’t agree with the banning or censoring of books in either schools or libraries. Even the American Library Association in its Freedom to Read statement focuses on the freedom to read as guaranteed by the Constitution and affirms that it is in the public interest for librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority (so there seems to be some hypocrisy or at least contradiction in this latest library ban).

The Freedom to Read statement from the ALA goes on to say:

The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them…Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated……The people should have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of ideas than those that may be held by any single librarian or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what one can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.

I recently had the “how much do I sanitize issue” with my own book, Sophomore Campaign. Much like the controversy surrounding the book Ernest Hemingway pronounced as the source of all modern American literature – Huckleberry Finn (and led to the recent rerelease where all uses of the “N” word was replaced with the word slave) – I had used the “N” word to showcase the rampant racism that was typical for my novel’s setting. Not everyone who worked with me to publish the book felt that its use was necessary or even appropriate. I had to decide what made sense for my audience. This of course was more an issue of political correctness rather than censorship, but still stirred up in me some of the same emotions connected to the issues I raise here.

And in the end, the romance between a college student and a manipulative billionaire may or may not be your thing – and perhaps you would prefer to read the newly released version of “Huck” or you would defend the original to the end – but nevertheless the library ban of this popular trilogy should offend you as an author, a reader, and as a lover of the written word – I can think of “50” reasons why.

Sophomore Campaign A Mickey Tussler Novel (Mickey Tussler, #2) by Frank Nappi
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Published on May 10, 2012 02:15 • 881 views • Tags: 50-shades-of-grey, censorship, classics, libraries, sophomore-campaign, the-hunger-games, twilight
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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim Ok English teacher, have you not cautioned your students about the use of words like everyone? Not all of us are talking about this series. That aside, I agree with your main point that removing books from public libraries because of content is not a good thing. However, you need to know a few things (if you don't already know them). First, the decision to remove a book is rarely the decision of a librarian. Public libraries usually have to answer a local political unit (city, county, etc.) and they are the ones who direct the removal. This can be slowed or stopped by a really good review policy (in writing) that dictates the steps to be taken when someone asks or demands a book be removed. Second, the ALA does encourage and push very hard for libraries to fight censorship. Third, I suspect many of the removals are in school libraries rather than public libraries and that is a different setting where I (but not ALA) can support a certain level of censorship because there are books that do not belong in school (especially elementary school) libraries. Finally, every librarian in the country is involved in censorship. We call it selection, but the result is the same and is often rooted in some form of censorship. None of us can buy every book on the market (and we both know there are plenty that do not deserve to be bought with public money) so we have to SELECT (censor) what we buy.
Like you, I love to see kids or anyone else with a book and if that means Harry Potter or Twilight, or comic books (horror! :))then make sure they have access. I have parent and teacher testimony that certain children would be in juvenile detention (regular jail by now) if I had not found a book they would read. That led to them liking reading and expanding their horizons to other books. They started with science fiction (oh my!) and a paperback at that (how awful!). But today those kids (now adults) are productive members of society.
One of our (librarians) sayings is "a good library should have something to offend everyone". I think it should also have something to please everyone. It is a challenging job.

message 2: by Harold (new)

Harold Titus In the late 1970s I had two of my eighth grade English classes read Dick Gregory's autobiography "Nigger." My purpose was to expose my upper middle-class white students to the realities of large-city ghetto existence. A Christian fundamentalist parent objected, not on the grounds that the word "nigger" was used frequently but that "the Lord's name was used in vain." He was not satisfied that I permitted his daughter to read a different book and that I protected her from her classmates' scrutiny. He wanted nobody to read the book and he went to the school board to insist upon it. The board appointed a committee of local citizens to review the book as well as the parent's and my arguments. The committee ruled in my favor. Ironically, the 70 some copies, all paperbacks (not permabound), had pretty much fallen apart during their use and weren't used again.

message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan Ashcraft I don't believe in book banning of any form, for any reason...don't want your child to read something? Be a parent, say no, and then FOLLOW through! Stop blaming books and authors and their way with words for your child not behaving. You don't want to read something? DON'T!!! But deprive other people is just selfish and self righteous and usually with little of no real cause for concern.

message 4: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Knight This is simply my opionion: I believe that the issues raised here regarding censorship would fall under the umbrella of free speech. Writers should be free to write their stories, whether based on fact or fiction, within the realm of the U.S. Constitution's provision of freedom of speech. By the same token, readers should be allowed to choose for themselves what they wish to read. If the story becomes offensive to any individual, they are free to decide whether or not to continue to read. It should be the individual person's choice; not dictated by someone else's opinion or sensibilities.

message 5: by Isaac (new)

Isaac Chanthapaseuth As a student i read all these banned books because it's good to find out things that you have not read before and gives you a clear picture and teachers always do a overview of any book that are banned or they tell us to search the main idea of the story in forms of questions about the book. It's the person choice to read any kind of book and we have the freedom to do so.

message 6: by Shalini (new)

Shalini Ayre Your point is well made and censorship will remain as long as someone is offended by what a person has said and/or written. You can't please everyone and whilst I don't agree with 'banning' books, I can understand the need to remove sensitive material from young hands. Yet, I'm always amazed by how desensitized they have become so wonder if this is a futile process? And, just being a tad facetious here, surely the only books to be banned - paper or otherwise - should the badly written ones! You know, the ones where there's a lack of sentence structure, little grammar, spelling mistakes...

message 7: by Frank (new)

Frank Nappi Harold wrote: "In the late 1970s I had two of my eighth grade English classes read Dick Gregory's autobiography "Nigger." My purpose was to expose my upper middle-class white students to the realities of large-c..."

It is amazing that sometimes what we think will be the issue when selecting a particular novel to teach...isn't!

message 8: by Frank (new)

Frank Nappi Susan wrote: "I don't believe in book banning of any form, for any reason...don't want your child to read something? Be a parent, say no, and then FOLLOW through! Stop blaming books and authors and their way wit..."

Agreed - parents definitely need to be somewhat of an arbiter when it comes to book choices - As a parent myself I know that this is not always possible...but certainly needs to be a factor.

message 9: by Donna (new)

Donna Parker Censorship is about control. If you control information you can control the masses. There's a school here in Canada that actually banned Yertle the Turtle and that was just a teacher quoting it during a meeting discussing a strike. Knowledge is power so if you control and suppress that knowledge you hold the power. Of course when information is given to children should be age appropriate, but to stem the flow of knowledge is immoral and cruel. Knowledge should be experienced in all its glory, never, ever held down, beaten or battered.

message 10: by Frank (new)

Frank Nappi Donna wrote: "Censorship is about control. If you control information you can control the masses. There's a school here in Canada that actually banned Yertle the Turtle and that was just a teacher quoting it dur..."

Agreed Donna!

message 11: by Marian (new)

Marian I think that it is important for libraries to value freedom of speech and to offer books of all kinds for their audience - whether they are public libraries or school libraries. I think obviously school libraries need to be aware of what is age appropriate, but books of varying points of view need to be there for students to explore. It is when young people are growing and forming opinions of the world that they need to see that there is more than one option - they do not have to blindly accept what is being told to them - of course, this is always within reason. But as long as a book is not inciting hatred or violence, it should be accessible.

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