Sunday, February 24, 2013

Freedom to Read Week with Judith Graves

A Book is a Loaded Gun

As both a library technician and an author of young adult fiction, I have strong feelings about censorship. Though, sometimes those feelings cause me some confusion. There are times when the lines blur.

I believe in free speech – not hate speech.

I believe in the parent’s right to decide what kinds of media their children are exposed to – but their children only – not the children of others.

I believe in celebrating the good in this life – but do not condone avoiding the negative. Banning a book about teen pregnancy doesn’t make the issue magically disappear.

So far in my 18 years working as a library technician in academic, law, public and school libraries, I’m happy to say I’ve only encountered book challenges several times.

Each is unique. Each is unnerving.

Because each time I am reminded, with a virtual slap-to-the-face, that what I see as an inherent right – FREEDOM TO READ – others see as a dangerous threat.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.”

~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

There are levels to challenges. Some are simple requests from parents, to restrict their child’s access to certain materials, like graphic novels for instance. These are easily dealt with as the library software in my school enables me to add a notice to patron records. “Jane can’t take out Bone books.” Or “No more war books for Tom.”

At least in instances like this, the challenge goes no further than one family.

Other challenges are toward a specific title and the request is to have it removed from the library. At this point, my wonderful “Challenge Policy” kicks in. I have a detailed form the parent must fill out and the first question they must answer is: Have you read the entire book? If they haven’t, then they are asked to do so in order to complete the form, which will then be brought to our school’s library committee.

Not surprisingly, the challenge usually ends here. The parent either hasn’t read the entire book, or doesn’t have the time or inclination to, and thus the form is never filled out and never returned.

Then there are the mobster challengers - those who find strength in numbers. I once had several mothers sweep into the library, demand to go through the stacks, and proceed to physically haul armfuls of titles to the principal’s office. I confess, I thought they would head straight for the folklore section, where magic and mayhem abound, however in this instance, they selected titles from our “dinosaur” section and took on the evolution debate.

As an author of young adult fiction, I know the tightrope writers precariously step out on with every word or phrase they scrawl into notebooks, or type into their work-in-progress documents. Is it too much? Too sexual? Too graphic? Too blunt? Too raw? Too real?

Will it offend parents, booksellers, librarians? Will it even make it to the shelves for the intended audience to find?

Does it reek of whitewashed drivel the kids will see right through?

Personally, I have an edgy young adult manuscript, completely different than my paranormal fiction, that is, perhaps, too everything. I may decide to revise it enough to appease traditional publishers, but part of me is tempted to self-publish it and see what kind of fallout the book would face.

Would it be embraced? Or banned?

Today’s world – with our access to indie publishing, the changing idea of what is “edgy”, and ever evolving ebook technologies - is an exciting place to be for both readers and authors.

But it is also a scary place. Is this the Wild West of publishing? Will rights be respected? It is up to us – the readers, the writers, the fans of the written word, and protectors of history, to ensure they are.

One of the most powerful experiences I’ve had was during a trip to Europe few years ago. I stood in the Bebelplatz square in Berlin, the site of a massive Nazi book burning, within sight of Humbolbt University – a symbol of knowledge and wisdom – and could only imagine the devastation of such an act.

The destruction of hope.

The site is marked with a monument (my photo of it farther below) quoting a German poet from one his plays:

“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”

~ Heinrich Heine, 1821.

I leave you with two images, one I took at the Sachsenhausen labour camp just outside Berlin, where over 30,000 people died, and the other is a Freedom to Read promotion poster from 1992.

Find Judith:
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1 comment:

  1. I've been browsing book blogs for a few hours tonight and this is a surprisingly heavy post. I'm not Canadian but maybe I'll celebrate by checking out And Tango Makes Three for my nieces :)


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