Banned Books discussion

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How will ALA's list change?

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:22AM) (new)

I think censorship will move out of the school library system and onto Internet publishing. Censorship is being accomplished with money in the adult literary world- the small presses and the indie bookstores are closing, and editors are the first line censors- the strongest and strangest ideas are considered in relationship to how they will affect the money.


message 2: by Conrad (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:24AM) (new)

Conrad It is absolutely important to maintain a distinction between the effect of market economics on speech and the effect of an oppressive government. When Simon & Schuster declines to publish someone's writing, they leave open the possibility of that writer being published elsewhere. When a government arrests a writer for something they have published or attempted to publish, they foreclose that possibility. That is the difference between "banning" or "censorship" and the hopelessly bourgeois institution of "taste." There is a vast moral difference - and mercifully so.

Let's imagine a world where print writing was abolished as a market because it endangered free speech. If anyone wanted to publish a book, that book HAD to be published, because who knows, that person's opinion may be politically obscure. The odds that I would ever find a good poet on my own in a bookstore would be reduced by a factor equal to (a) the number of books published by ambitious fourth graders who complained that the market was nixing their shot at self-actualization divided by (b) the number of books written by someone I would like if I ran into their work while browsing, all else being equal.

The market also decelerates rampant production, paradoxically - if everyone who wanted to be published was published, and had to be published at reasonable prices, and had to be carried by indie booksellers, then we'd be denuding Alaska for the sake of everyone in America having access to my grandmother's memoirs at stores that no one would ever enter. But you, Sarah, would have your point, though you would have also trampled the rights of anyone on the planet who ever wanted to read something that might be useful to them.


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:24AM) (new)

I didn't explain my point very clearly, did I? Forgive me! What I meant was this: I have noticed that publishers guidelines reflect social mores. An example- my novel Border Roads, which will be published on July 2 by Loose ID- I originally had a character who was a 15 yr old prostitute, HIV Pos. The editor, and then the publisher, had guidelines, though, that characters under 18 could not have sex. So I had to increase this characters age in the manuscript to 18 in order for the book to get published. I think we all wish that there were no 15 year old prostitutes with HIV.
My point was that I believe, and will say so even in the absence of empirical proof, that tolerance for diversity is disapearing in our culture, and with it, we will see subtle forms of censorship- I don't expect to have my ass hauled down to the KGB dungeons for writing a mystery with a gay sleuth, but I do expect subtle social pressures to have that sleuth be nice and wear a condom, for instance.


message 4: by Conrad (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:24AM) (new)

Conrad That's also a matter of context. A publisher that markets its books as intended to titillate - like Loose ID - is going to be more hesitant about publishing books with underage hookers than, say, any publisher of Threepenny Opera or Lolita, which markets its book as literature, which titillates only incidentally. Your publisher might object to Joycean internal monologue a little more strongly than Vintage would, but I wouldn't infer a lack of "tolerance for diversity" in the culture at large. It's just not what they publish, and its readers know that, and that's probably part of why they buy Loose ID's books. Meanwhile, Lolita and Threepenny Opera are still in print, and that's not going to change (at least, not as long as I'm around and can still exercise the second amendment!)

I don't mean to put words into your mouth, but I think what you're talking about is that publishers tend to market books to niches, and exclude or include content depending on their readers' expectations. Even the megapublishers do this through imprints. It's because no reader goes to the bookstore in a quandry over whether to read James Patterson or Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. (I will definitely say so without empirical proof!) Instead, depending on the subcultures with which they identify or any number of other factors, they might try to decide between Wittgenstein or Heidegger, or alternatively Patterson or Ludlum. Correspondingly, publishers each have narrow ideas of what their content should be, linked to their marketing. But if this is really a problem, I don't think it's one that we can blame capitalism for.


message 5: by Erica (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:25AM) (new)

Erica I think this was a really interesting dialogue and I'm glad you both expounded upon your original comments.

I think that what is published is ultimatley determined by market forces, and in so being, is exactly what we want it to be- therefore, literature is not always determined by content, but by themes and literary merit. I can already hear your arguements..... but hear me out.

The argument I hear is that publishers are not allowing consumers to determine the market, but rather determining the market (choices) for the consumer based on their own moral judgements. In such a way, the publisher is placing restraints on the market in a way no different than government standards organizations such as OSHA and the FDA. But I would argue that since they are motivated by profit, they filter and limit based on what consumers want, and not personal moral judgements. You could even go one step further and say that certain publishers have as their mission to reflect what they perceive as the distinctive opinions of their intended consumer, and thus publish with those goals in mind. If the consumer believes its quality; if the themes appeal to the consumer, the peson will buy it (and not necessarily just buy- this applies to libraries and checking out, as well. Whether they liked the book after the fact is immaterial, the choice has already been made).

Does this mean that worthy authors are not published? Yes. By limiting choices to what has been proven to appeal to people, we are limiting the chance they may encounter a unique viewpoint previously unconsidered. Does it amount to censorship? No. That you can still put your work out there, with or without the help of a publisher, satisfies the parameters of the First Ammendment.

Furthermore, is it fair that large publishing houses have an advantage in commercial, private booksellers, and independent, self-published authors do not? No. But it doesn't have to be. In fact, that they have a product and market it better is the first goal of free market economics- which, because you have the chance to compete against them, creates the largest possible amount of freedom. I would even argue that you the secret is not necessarily in massive amounts of money, but in how you market your product. Which brings us back to- is the product something the public wants? Large publishers don't necessarily limit the content to a guaranteed fluff sell. There are plenty of books published every year with questionable content, some that sell, some that don't. The main difference between those with staying power and those (and there are many) that quickly fade into oblivion, is the compelling nature of the content and the literary skill of the writer.

I do not believe the tolerance for diversity is disappearing in our culture. If we notice a large group of people who are conservative in their ideas and action and who prefer the status quo, then that is no different than throughout history what we have called the mainstream. This does not mean the ability of people to think differently and creatively, or of people to follow them, is stiffled. In fact, change is slow- and moving the mainstream has always been done in small steps and not large leaps. That there are people who are willing to challenge and provoke, and people who are willing to take on that challenge and be provoked, demonstrates that diversity is present. I live in Zambia...if ever there was a culture that was monotonous and conformist.....but anyway, that we allow for the idea of change, and that there are people who are willing to expand our parameters, is, to me, the ultimate indicator of the presence of diversity.


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