Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon 12 - Burn This Book

The Sunday SalonGood morning everyone! This post might end up being a little information-overload, but bear with me (I'll do my honest best not to ramble since I'm providing a lot of extra data). If there is a topic that will get book lovers riled up, it is censorship and banned books. Just this week, Stephanie from Confessions of a Bookaholic talked about Book Burning and there have been many many others. The freedom to read is very near and dear to me and the thought of that freedom being challenged makes my blood boil.

FSB Associates emailed me earlier this week about a pro-bono project they are doing for Burn This Book, a new collection of essays edited by Toni Morrison and published by Harper Studio. And while I didn't get a chance to get the book, let alone read it, this week, I wanted to share the information with you all.

Burn This Book

Burn This Book contains a number of essays from literary heavyweights such as John Updike, David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine Gordimer. They pose the question of what censorship means and what the consequences of censorship could be. What can we do for our part? I'm not really sure, but I don't think it is a topic that can or should be ignored. You can even sign a petition for the right to read (go now!!).

What do you think the implications are of censorship and banned books? What does it even mean for you when a book lands on the banned book list? Do you think that certain material should not be taught in the schools? Are there books you read in school when you were younger that are now on that list? Do you have a favorite banned book?

What does our world look like with more and more of our favorite books landing on the banned or challenged book lists every year? Where do we draw the line?

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Eva said...

That sounds like an interesting essay collection! Thanks for linking to it! I don't usually focus on reading banned books, except when there was a challenge, but maybe I should focus more on it! :) Of the 2008 top ten, I've read The Kite Runner (which I hated) and His Dark Materials (which I loved). But none of them were published when I was young!

samantha.1020 said...

This sounds like an interesting book...thanks for sharing about it. I've been meaning to read more banned books but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Thanks for sharing this!

Amanda said...

I've tried to include a certain number of banned books in my reading lists. For the most part, I think we can really learn from them. Usually it's pretty deep stuff that's being banned.

Literary Feline said...

I got the same e-mail about Burn This Book and defintitely am interested in picking it up sometime. I'm kind of on a no-new-book-buying kick right now though, so that one will have to wait.

It always amazes me what lands on a banned book list.

Scrap girl said...

I don't think any books should be banned. However, I do feel that some may not be suitable to be read in school and should perhaps be left to the parent's discretion as to whether their children are mature enough to read them.

C. B. James said...

Scrap girl gets right at the problem. Whose parents get to decide what is suitable for school? Yours? Mine?

Terri B. said...

Such an interesting topic. I think it is important to define what is meant by censorship. As a librarian, I try to be clear about collection decisions based on our stated collection policies and the demographic that we serve. We can't purchase every book out there and must find a way to make decisions with a limited budget. I will support someones right to read what they choose though, even if we don't add it to our collection.

Trish said...

*Eva - I don't read banned books on purpose, it just happens that way. Seems like more and more books are becoming banned, though, and it makes me wonder what "banned" really even means.

*Samantha - I'm sure you're reading banned books and don't realize it--I'm always really surprised by what's on the list!

*Amanda - I think you'd be surprised by the children's lit that's being "banned" as well. If not for the hype surrounding HP, I'm not sure I would have started reading them when I did.

*Lit Feline - LOL--I was a little disappointed that this one wasn't up for ARC grabs. :) But there are so many great authors contributing in this book that I'm not sure I can resist it!

*Scrap girl - I do agree that perhaps some books aren't suitable for school, but each year it seems that list is getting more and more restricted. Some of the stuff I read 10 years ago is "banned" now. Interesting to think about.

*CB James - Well, that is the question--whose authority? Who makes the rules and regulations and by what standards? Perhaps the best course is to assign the books and let kids opt out for a different choice if their parents object? I don't really know.

*Terri - Interesting--I've never really given much thought to budget before and how that might dictate what libraries choose to carry and choose not to, but I guess it would be really important to define the scope of your holdings.

Shanra said...

Ne, Trish, do you mind if I steal part of your post? (With credit, of course.)

Uff... But the rest of my comment is all muddled up and confusing to explain. It's such a subjective issue, isn't it? What is censorship, indeed. I suppose, in the interest of the post, we should define it as "Ensuring those books we disagree with may never be read, even by those who disagree with our view". And that, I believe, is wrong.

At the same time, there are books that, as Scrap Girl points out, aren't suitable below a certain maturity level. I know I could have done with a "graphic sex!" warning on one of the books I picked up as a teen, little suspecting its contents. Or, you know, at least not expecting to be as squicked out/traumatised as I was. (But I suspect that may have more to do with my sensibilities than my age.)

There's a difference, though, between things that are graphic and things that merely do not agree with one's view of the world. And there's a difference between ensuring books are not available at all and warning people of its contents. I think the latter is acceptable (and in some cases very much desireable!), provided people can reach a general consensus of what things should be warned against. For my part, I go with "what is considered too graphic by general consensus" (and even that varies per country! Just look at the differences in movie age labels.)

And that's as close to an answer as I can come up with that sounds vaguely sensible.

Debi said...

Thanks for the post, Trish! I hadn't heard of this book, but I'm now really eager to read it. I'm guessing that these authors will be able to express many of the things I feel so much better than I can. Bottom line, I just think banning/censoring books is idiotic. There would be NO libraries, if ever book that someone found offensive had to be removed from them.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Truly a topic that is worth discussing. Literature is so important to who we are as a species and as a community. Banning and censorship is only something that can be stifling to our progress as a generation. You have got me really interested in reading this.

Melody said...

Great post, Trish! I'll definitely have to look out for that book! I haven't read many banned books, but I feel one has the right of choosing the book he wants to read, and that the parents/teachers play a part in choosing the right books for the children to read for that matter.

TheBlackSheep said...

I have to say that I'm not overly bothered about the banned books lists. Yes, I think some of them are stupid (Mark Twain? Hello?), but banning them in schools is hardly banning them at the bookstore or home. As long as they are available outside of school and in public libraries, I'm not going to jump on any band wagons. Frankly, as a kid, if you said, "oh, such and such is banned", you know I was out there trying to get it to see what the fuss was about. Most of them wound up not interesting me anyway.

I also understand the need for schools to protect themselves these days. Better to err on the safe side in this day and age. Like I said, as long as they aren't banned from society as a whole, I can live with them not being in the schools. After all, there is a lot of great literature out there which isn't objectionable in the least. Let them teach that in schools and save the other stuff for university levels.

violetcrush said...

I had seen this book somewhere and the "Edited by Toni Morrison" caught my eye. This is a really good idea and this definitely would be an awesome book to read.

I'm not really sure what I feel about banned books. In general, I do believe books shouldn't be banned but I'm not really sure if books should be banned in schools or not. I would be able to answer this better when I have children though :)

Joined you on Twitter.

Tristi Pinkston said...

I don't believe in banning books, but I do believe in labeling them properly. If a person has chosen not to read erotica, for instance, and they pick up a book that hasn't been labeled properly and they end up with something they didn't want, that's too bad. On the other hand, if someone wants to read erotica, that should be their choice. I think as long as everything is labeled to clearly indicate what it is, books should never be banned.

Nymeth said...

I had never heard of this essay anthology before, but it sounds awesome! Thanks for posting about it, Trish.

As for banning books, meh, I could go on for ages. I agree with some of the points the other commenters made about maturity level, but the problem is that I don't think it's really a matter of age...each child as their own limits, just like each adult, and they can handle different things at different ages. I just worry that by leaving certain books out of the classroom out of fear to offend, we'll be levelling things by the lowest common denominator. And we'll also ban important subjects from the classroom, subjects that kids need to discuss to better deal with the whole process of growing up and deciding what kind of person they want to be.

I also think kids are pretty great at self-censoring when they're not ready for something, and that reading something they're not ready for won't necessarily scar them for life.

Dar said...

I do not and never have believed in banning books. If you don't want to read it, then don't. I do think that some books may not be appropriate for some and that's fine but they shouldn't be banned. There's several books I've read that have been banned that were great books.

Gayla said...

Hello Trish~
I found your blog from A Striped Chair and I'm glad I did. Love your blog!
Such a great topic and an important one as well. Thanks you for the information about "Burn This Book" and the petition-which I happily signed by the way :).I'm really agreeing with you on the whole banning of books issue and this "list" is getting way, way too long.
"Tristi's" comment said it so well: "I don't believe in banning books, but I do believe in labeling them properly." How easy is that? (lol) In my opinion books should be available to everyone, and banning and censorship should disappear. Should we label some literature to maybe protect kids, sure. But ban them, no.
Again, thank you so much about "Burn This Book". I'm a big fan of Toni Morrison and the others. Great blog :)

Michelle said...

Sorry I have been MIA lately! I am still reading but just SOOOOO BUSY!!!! Anyway, as far as your question goes, in school, I don't think you should be forced to read something that could be deemed as inappropriate for kids or teens. Do you burn the books? NO! But then where do you draw the line? What about movies? Should you be allowed to watch any movie in school because it is part of the "arts"? Why is a book different? I would not want my children reading about murder, sex, and etc. just because it was a book.... Anyway, hope you are doing well...

Trish said...

*Shanra - Borrow away—most of this was information I got for the person who is advertising this book. The subject itself is muddled, but I think you bring up some great points very clearly. Appropriateness of subject matter is key, but even that—who decides what’s appropriate. I think our world views and ideals get in the way of appropriate sometimes. Gray matter indeed. Like how I’m kind of beating around the bush with my responses? :P

*Debi - I wish I could have gotten my hands on the actual book before writing up the post, but ah well. Great list of contributors, though! And yes, I generally think banning/censorship is idiotic, especially when I look at the list of banned books and the reasoning behind the banning. Do I think all of it is appropriate for school? No, of course not, but I think they (whoever they are) are taking this banning/censorship thing too far.

*Padfoot and Prongs - You’ll have to let us know what you think about the book if you get your hands on it. I’m curious to know exactly what they mean when they say “censorship.” I think we take words like that for granted here in the States or other free countries where censorship isn’t always a concern.

*Melody - I bet you’ve read more banned books than you think you have—that list gets longer every year! Yes, I think parents should have a say in what their children read, of course, but it’s when others start to impose censorship and restrictions that I have more of a problem.

*Blacksheep - I had the same reaction to banned books—probably wouldn’t have read Harry Potter when I did if there wasn’t such a fuss about dark witches and the such. Seems all silly now, but why all the fuss in the first place?

*Violetcrush - I think that discretion should be used in the schools, but I think sometimes the reasoning behind the banning gets a little muddled—political agendas and such. It’s such a gray area that it’s hard to know where the line should be drawn, I think.

*Tristi - I agree with what you say about properly labeling books—and it should be our choice what we decide to read, as long as that choice continues to exist. Luckily we live in a culture where our freedom isn’t quite as threatened and I thank my lucky stars for that.

*Nymeth - You bring up a good point about leveling, but what frightens me more (or maybe the same) is that important pieces of literature are sometimes not taught in schools anymore—Huck Finn has always been an American lit staple in high schools. I was talking to Scott about this and he said—it’s almost like they’re trying to cover up or erase an uncomfortable part of history. And all of this about the gay literature that has come up—is it just because it is making certain people uncomfortable? Like I said a million times in these comments, the line is blurry and gray. I don’t know what the right answer is.

*Dar - There are a lot of great books on that list! I know I’ve read some great banned books. I’m really interested in hearing what this book says about censoring and the effects of banning books.

*Gayla - So glad you signed the petition! I appreciate you coming by and giving your input. I really admire Toni Morrison as well and am curious to hear what the others say about censorship—especially such a multi-cultural group of authors.

*Michelle - I do think it is the parents' choice whether or not to let a child partake in what is being offered. I think book burning is meant symbolically in the title, but in other places maybe books are literally being burned. I wish I knew more specifically what this book is about.

damnedconjuror said...

I've never understood the ideology between banning something. It's all rather pointless. It's basically throwing a towel over something that can be seen in plain sight.

It is interesting, however, to look at the issue of banning books and realise that the power of the written word still has a lot of influence over people. I'm not talking about books telling people to commit crimes, because that's silly, but the fact that people take stock and are scared by some books. Scared enough to want to ban it.

Of course, the whole thing is about control. People ban books because literature is powerful, it has the ability to change things.

In the case of banning books from schools, it's a case of either snobbery or ignorance. The parent or teacher is in some way threatening by the existence of a book. Their control is being upset.


Banning books is a dumb, ridiculous thing to do. I wouldn't ban any book, not even say, Mein Kampf. It's a load of crap but it's an important historical document. It has it's place. All books have their place.

Anyway, I'm rambling.