Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I get as riled up as the next librarian when I see attempts at censorship, especially since the best books are usually the targets. Today's ALA Direct newsletter has a link to an article of a parent wanting to ban Lovely Bones from a middle school library. This is one of my favorite books ever, even though it is about the brutal rape and murder of a young girl and how her family falls apart after her death.

First of all, I do admire that this woman actually read the book cover to cover. I cannot say how much it frustrates me that censorship promotors rarely read the books and take quotations and events out of context. Anti-Harry-Potter people bring up the quote "There is no good or evil: only power and those too weak to seak it." Yeah, that's the bad guy who says it, it shows how bad he is, and his lack of understanding is his down-fall. Read the darn things if you are going to embarrass your children by turning their censorship into a crusade.

I also have to question the appropriateness of Lovely Bones in a middle school library, but their middle school ranges from 5th to 8th grade. I think many 8th graders can handle this book. A librarian discusses the challenge of developing a collection for this age group, and that it is important not to dumb down the collection for 8th graders.

During my junior year of high school, our entire English curriculum was based on banned books. Most of them were dear classics such as 1984, Farenheit 451, and A Separate Peace (I'm assuming that last one has been challenged... too lazy to look it up tonight). One of the books was The Chocolate War, which after about 15 pages I decided I did not want to read. I told my parents, my dad read the book in one night, went to the teacher and said he didn't think I should have to read it, and I was given another book. I think it was handled well. I still had to learn about the book since everyone else was reading it... I think one of the highlights of my life was that one group did a video as their project on this book. In the video, they went into the bathroom for the famous scene where they blackmail one of the characters with pictures of him pleasuring himself in the bathroom... they zoomed in on the stall, and our teacher is in the back of the room having a heart attack in anticipation. It turned out when they pushed the door open, they showed the character beating the heck out of a rubber chicken. Oh, the joys of working with an honors class! I digress. The point is there is a difference between a teacher assigning a questionable book, and the same book being available in the library. If a student or their parents can make a reasonable argument, give the kid another book. Heck, give them a longer book if you want.

So the gods of librarianship will eventually strike me dead for being somewhat sympathetic to censorship. That is an example of a die-hard ethic that we stand for. But it breaks my heart when some of my favorite books are the most challenged, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Giver, Shel Silverstein, and Snow Falling on Cedars. This woman has completly misunderstood Lovely Bones if she thinks it is about rape and murder rather than healing and hope. She judges the mother who has an affair and leaves the family, but not the father who becomes an alcoholic. This woman has no idea what would happen to her family if such a horrible thing happened. And I certainly hope it never does.
Lovely Bones was written by Alice Sebold who also wrote a memoir of her own experience with brutal rape. That book is called Lucky. Talk about graphic. She goes into every detail and makes you feel like it is happening to you (until you put the book down, of course). It talks about the stupid things that she did afterwards, the friendships that fell apart, the good men she couldn't treat right, the stress on her family. So it is a weird title, right? The point was that she was lucky she didn't die, and anyone who says they would rather die than live after such an experience is an idiot. But you can't know that until you have been there. Lucky doesn't really end. Lovely Bones has an incredibly uplifting ending. This woman complains that the bad guy never gets punished... the ghosts of his victims push him off a cliff! The girl comes back for a few hours that she can spend with her would-have-been boyfriend or chase the killer. She felt she'd rather spend her one or two hours back on earth with him than on revenge. The family comes together at the end, the sister is able to have a very healthy relationship that turns into marriage, the wayward wife comes back, the husband forgives her and stops drinking... They fell apart but came back together... The last line is something like, "Have a nice life."
If anyone gets to the end of this raving mess then you must really like these books that I talk about. I'm sorry this is so long. Be glad that some of you don't live near me so you don't have to listen to this every time I see a new story of challenged books.
And please don't turn me in to the gods of librarianship.

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