Log in


April 2017

Powered by LiveJournal.com

Book Challenges

For Banned Books Week, I thought I'd discuss a question that I see a lot in various forms.

Q: A challenge is an unsuccessful attempt to ban. Since it's unsuccessful, no harm done; what's the fuss?

I'll start with a quote here:

"The challenges documented in this list are not brought by people merely expressing a point of view; rather, they represent requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, thus restricting access to them by others. Even when the eventual outcome allows the book to stay on the library shelves and even when the person is a lone protester, the censorship attempt is real. Someone has tried to restrict another person’s ability to choose. Challenges are as important to document as actual bannings, in which a book is removed from the shelves of a library or bookstore or from the curriculum at a school. Attempts to censor can lead to voluntary restriction of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy; in these cases, material may not be published at all or may not be purchased by a bookstore, library, or school district."

The above came from ALA's Banned Books Week materials. To it, I will add some information from Laurie Halse Anderson's blog. She has been reporting on a challenge to seven books, which were reportedly pulled from a teacher's classroom starting August 24, after a complaint from one parent. A challenge committee voted on the three books for which the appropriate challenge paperwork had actually been filed; all three books were then approved for classroom use, though one of the approvals was appealed. However, Ms. Anderson reports that as of September 25, a week after the vote, none of the books had yet been returned to the classroom. (For another ongoing censorship story, see Ellen Hopkins's blog.)

We never know about the teachers or librarians who choose not to stock a book because it's been challenged elsewhere, and they think it's not worth the risk, or they can't afford to fight. We never know about the writers who cross out their own words, or hide a manuscript in a drawer, because nice people don't talk about that topic or nice people don't use those words.  And we never know about the kids who search bookshelves in vain for a story about someone who's going through what they're going through--whether it's coming out, facing an unplanned pregnancy, coping with abuse, deciding whether to use drugs, battling self-destructive behavior, or choosing when to have sex and with whom.  Because real kids do face those issues, whether we're comfortable with that fact or not.

Censorship is largely driven by fear. And the longer I live, the more evidence I see that fear is a very bad place from which to make decisions. And also, that we often fear all the wrong things; or we attack something we think we can control because the thing we really fear is not under our control.

To the person who asks why we can't all just write nice wholesome safe books, I say: I believe that we need challenging and edgy books. But even if I didn't believe that, ultimately, self-censorship is futile, because we can't always predict what someone will choose to take offense to.  It's impossible to write something that's totally inoffensive to everyone.

No matter what we leave out of books, controversial issues and ideas will still be with us. The question is: do we deal with them openly and honestly, or do we bury them in secrecy and shame?


Too many folks don't understand that a "mere" challenge can be enough to quell a book (and, through ripples, to quell authors, many of whom are already being asked by their editors not to use certain language in their books).
(But my wonderful editor never censored me.)
Great points! Plus, I doubt a challenge has the ironic raised-interest-and-sales effect that banning sometimes does, so there isn't even a silver lining. :P
Sometimes people say writers choose controversial subjects just to sell books, but I find that my subjects choose me. Sometimes I would rather write a cozy story, but that isn't what chooses me.
Thanks for this. I often get those little doubts about what I'm writing, whether it will offend anyone. This is good encouragement not to let the doubts drag down the work.
Go!! And go giant pencil!!
Great post! Some of the books that have hit me hardest lately have been Hate List and Wintergirls. Both deal unflinchingly with difficult and controversial issues, but I think they're both incredibly important.
Good books, both of them.