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You Can't Read That! is a periodic diary featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

can't read_77

Brunswick County NC school officials, in the wake of yet another parental challenge to Sherman Alexie's young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, have decided the book will stay on the shelves of a middle school. One parent, though, is continuing her campaign to have the book removed, characterizing it as "Filth, pure filth." Can this parent possibly have read the book? I read it and don't remember any filth. Here's my review, ICYMI.

Here's an interesting article describing a Florida county school board's procedures for evaluating and acting on parental book challenges. Sounds like these particular administrators like literature and have a clue.

Sadly, here's the negative school board story to undo the positive ones above the squiggle. Said at a Ringgold PA school board meeting where Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was challenged and quickly banned (and I quote):

Baertsch suggested the board read the book before passing judgment, but Kennedy interrupted her, saying, "I don't read Penthouse and I won't read this."
Contemptible. And typical.

The attempted murder of a teenaged girl by two other teenaged girls who were acting out a crowdsourced story featuring a villain named the Slender Man has led to calls for the banning of crowdsourced online fiction. Crowdsourced fiction sounds a lot like fan fiction to me, so I'm not sure how that would work. I guess you could shut down the internet. Good luck with that.

Speaking of the Slender Man, how common is it for wanna-be book burners to blame crimes on books? One would think it would be one of their favorite tactics, but a quick Google search doesn't turn up much. Yes, comic books have been blamed for youth crime, along with video games and music, but books? Not in recent years, it seems. And if they aren't blaming criminality on books, then why are they trying to ban them?

A related thought, from a New Statesman article on the history of literary censorship:

A more legitimate literary objection to censorship is its implicit portrayal of a reader as the sort of person who jumps off a cliff when asked. Notions such as “obscenity” or “abasement before the west” make literary language a tool of subversion and ascribe to the novelist the hypnotist’s capacity for making a previously obedient or prudish member of the public throw stones or unzip.
This story made me think: the staff of a Chicago area public library invited a pro-Palestinian speaker to give a public talk, then disinvited him because they couldn't find a pro-Israeli speaker to provide "balance." After a storm of protest they re-invited him and the talk is back on. So here's what I'm thinking: might this presage a new direction in book banning campaigns? What if book banners, after challenging books on school and public library shelves and being defeated, start demanding balance as compensation? One Chick tract for every YA novel, one copy of The Turner Diaries for every copy of To Kill a Mockingbird? Hey, you read it here first!

Word. Count on it. When censorship is permitted, gay books will be censored.

I mentioned in a previous YCRT! column my fear that trigger warnings, should we start applying them to books, might result in unprecedented waves of book banning directed at schools, colleges, even public libraries and book stores. Even though most book banners don't read the books they go after ("I don't read Penthouse and I won't read this"), trigger warnings would give them a blanket excuse never ever to read books in certain trigger warning categories. The kiss of death, when it comes to trigger warnings on books, would be any mention of homosexuality, which brings me to the ...

YCRT! Banned Book Review

fun homeFun Home
Alison Bechdel
3_5

I'll admit up front to a snobbish attitude toward graphic novels. I was raised to think they were for people who don't like to read. Still, I'm willing to expand my horizons, and when I learned the theme of this year's Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) is to be graphic novels, I pressed members of my book club to pick one for our September selection. I went a step further and recommended Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. We have agreed to read a graphic novel that month; whether it'll be Fun Home or another selection remains to be seen. I decided to read it anyway, and borrowed a copy from my local library.

You've probably heard of the Bechdel Test, a feminist litmus test for movies. To pass the test, a movie must have:

  1. At least two woman in it, who
  2. talk to each other about
  3. something besides a man
Yes, this is the same Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home is Bechdel's memoir of her childhood and college years. It's about her family ... her father, mother, and two brothers ... and focuses most tightly on her relationship with her father, a troubled man, and her discovery of her own sexuality. This is no comic book; it's a surprisingly literary and deep self-examination, filled with references and hints that drive you deeper into the text and illustrations. Although it's a fast read, it's also a demanding read, not at all what my inner snob was expecting.

Fun Home is touching and extememly personal ... I was moved in places, particularly those sections where Bechdel revisits key interactions with her father, showing how her understanding of his complicated character grew as she herself got older. She seems to hold little back; her depiction of a distant relationship with her father doesn't hide her love for him (I know that's speculative on my part, but Alison Bechdel made me believe it).

I rarely feel as if I've truly shared an author's humanity, especially not across gaps of gender and sexuality; given that I finished this book knowing only what Alison Bechdel wanted me to know, I was convinced she had shared most of herself with me. I felt connected, and it enriched my appreciation of this book.

When I gather material for new YCRT! diaries, I search Google for news articles about book challenges and banning attempts. This is how I first learned of Fun Home, reading articles about attempts to ban or restrict it.

Since its publication in June 2006, would-be censors have repeatedly tried to have Fun Home removed from libraries and school reading lists. The first challenge came just months after publication, in October 2006: residents of Marshall, Missouri tried to have the book removed from the public library. The book was removed but eventually reviewed and reinstated. In 2008 a University of Utah English professor added it to a class reading list. A student objected, and even though the professor gave the student an alternate reading assignment, the student contacted a local organization called "No More Pornography," which started an online petition calling for the book to be removed from the syllabus (the university stood its ground). Most recently, Fun Home has been challenged in South Carolina, where it was included as a summer reading selection for incoming freshmen at the College of Charleston. Organized religious groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council became involved, and though the college also stood its ground, the South Carolina House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee cut the college's funding by $52,000 ... the cost of the summer reading program ... to punish it for selecting Fun Home.

What is it about Fun Home that attracts this kind of attention? The good citizens of Marshall, Missouri characterized it as pornography, expressed concern that it would be read by children, and worried that it would attract seedy elements to the library. Pornography was the label used against the book in Utah. Again in South Carolina, the book's opponents called it pornography, accusing the book of promoting the "gay and lesbian lifestyle." One of the state representatives who voted to penalize the college said "This book trampled on freedom of conservatives ... teaching with this book, and the pictures, goes too far." In addition to the budgetary cuts, the legislature required the college to provide alternate books to any student who objects to a reading assignment because of a "religious, moral, or cultural belief."

Alison Bechdel has described the attempted banning of her book as "a great honor," describing attacks against it as "part of the whole evolution of the graphic-novel form." As to claims her work is pornographic, Bechdel points out that pornography is designed to cause sexual arousal, which is not the purpose of her book. Bechdel's supporters point out that Fun Home has been praised by professional book review journals and is the recipient of several literary awards. As noted, both the University of Utah and the College of Charleston stood by their decisions to retain Fun Home; the provost of the College of Charleston stating that its themes of identity are especially appropriate for college freshmen.

My own reaction? I agree with Bechdel and her defenders: this novel is not only literature but good literature, and while it explores adult themes and sexual identity is it absolutely not pornographic. Yes, Bechdel describes her realization, while in college, that she is lesbian. She describes her growing acceptance of her sexuality and even parts of her sexual life. This is guaranteed to make some readers uncomfortable. As she revisits parts of her earlier life from this new perspective, she discovers her own father's homosexual past, another potentially uncomfortable subject. And then there are the illustrations depicting Bechdel's early lesbian experiences:

fun-home-by-alison-bechdel

Some panels are even more graphic, and I can certainly understand why some parents would not want their kids to read this book. I have a hard time, though, seeing where college-aged adults need to be protected from it. Had the censorship attempts in Utah and South Carolina been triggered by the inclusion of Fun Home on a middle or high school reading list, I would not have been particularly surprised. But colleges and universities? Just how grown-up does one have to be to read a book about a lesbian?

I suspect lesbianism ... the explicitly sexual drawings in particular ... is key to conservative outrage over Fun Home. I thought Bechdel's story important, especially in an era when we're increasingly aware that some of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and fellow students are gay. I thought her illustrations frank but not titillating, an essential part of the story. Others, however, see in Bechdel's story and illustrations an attempt to overturn morality and religion by "promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle."

Significant numbers of people, and sadly many parents, believe homosexuality is a conscious choice. Accompanying that belief is the fear that exposing kids to sympathetic depictions of homosexuality, particularly kids who are just beginning to discover their own sexuality, might tempt them to experiment with, or even become, homosexual. Religious conservatives have always gone after books that depict or even mention sex, but books featuring happy, well-adjusted, sympathetic homosexual characters really bring out their wrath. Fun Home is obviously such a book, and we certainly haven't heard the last about it.

Judy Blume, another author whose books have been banned and suppressed, has this to say to parents who worry about what their kids are reading:

A lot of people worry much too much about what their children are reading. A lot of people will want to control everything in their children's lives, or everything in other people's children's lives.

If a child picks up a book and reads something she has a question about, if she can go to her parents, great. Or else they will read right over it. It won't mean a thing.

They are very good, I think, at monitoring what makes them feel uncomfortable. If something makes them feel uncomfortable they will put it down.

I think Ms Blume is on to something. With regard to Fun Home, if the subject of sexual identity makes you uncomfortable, if it is an affront to your religious, moral, or cultural beliefs, don't read it ... just don't assume your decision should apply to others.

Additional reading:

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Comment Preferences

  •  While I am totally, completely and utterly (9+ / 0-)

    against book banning, I sometimes think our school systems do make bad choices.

    My grandson's summer reading list included Ayn Rand's Anthem. I have to admit that upon hearing that, I spewed all my hatred of everything Randian. Grandson was a bit stunned, but then he laughed and said "Tell me how you really feel." So I calmed down and we discussed Ayn Rand. He knew he had to read the book, but he did admit my views were going to color his perceptions.

    He is going to be a senior this year, and he is smart and mature, but I don't think any young person needs to be exposed to that dreck. Seriously, how many more Paul Ryans do we want to risk?

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 09:16:02 AM PDT

    •  Anthem was also required HS reading for me. (4+ / 0-)

      I can assure you it did not turn me into Ayn Rand.  I do think people need to be exposed to ideological literature, either for them to make informed choices or to understand what we're up against.

    •  I think I remember having to read (3+ / 0-)

      one of her "works" at some point in my high school years.  I'd read Beowulf, the Canterbury Tales,  parts of the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Twain, Hemingway, Orwell, Koestler (yes, back in the seventies, they trusted ninth graders to read "Darkness at Noon"), Harper Lee, Erich Maria Remarque and Arthur Miller.  I kept thinking, "This Rand woman can't write to save her life.  The language is awkward, the characters are wooden, the plot is contrived and even the politics are so overwrought as to be completely unrealistic and silly."  It was obvious to me even as a teenager that this woman's writing was nothing more than none-too-persuasive polemics (although I probably didn't know the word "polemic" at the time.)

      It led me to conclude a long while ago that anyone who thought this woman's writings were profound was none-too-bright.

      I'm talking you, Ron, Rand and Paul.

  •  "This book trampled on freedom of conservatives (10+ / 0-)

    to be willfully ignorant assholes and try to make sure their children dont turn out to be better people than they'll ever be."

  •  Comparing THE HANDMAIDS TALE to PENTHOUSE mag (14+ / 0-)

    is kind of the definition of being a clueless moron.

  •  I hope they're ready to ban the Bible... (6+ / 0-)
    ...how common is it for wanna-be book burners to blame crimes on books?/blockquote>
  •  Banned Books Display Ideas (5+ / 0-)

    Every year libraries and book stores celebrate Banned Books Week. This year it will be held September 21-27.

    Here are some past examples of displays for the celebration.

    banned books

    photo3

    BBWPicture1

    1743755-L

    banned books Color Purple

    LL Sept Banned Books DTH 2

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

    by se portland on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 10:02:21 AM PDT

    •  Wow, those are great (albeit sad) (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BvueDem, se portland, FloridaSNMOM

      Leave it to librarians to be so creative.  My late Mother-In-Law was a high school librarian.  There are so few people in your life with whom you can have deep discussions about literature and they know not only what your are talking about and can respond, but make you think.  She was awesome.  I miss her so much.

      I found the clamps on The Color Purple to be particularly distressing -- it's one of my favorite novels of all time.

  •  Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, BvueDem, FloridaSNMOM




    DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
    SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
    Sun (occasional) 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
    MON 1:00 PM Grokking Republicans Mokurai
    Mon 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
    TUE - alternate weeks 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
    Tue - alternate weeks 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
    Tue 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left Kit RMP, bigjacbigjacbigjac
    Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
    WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
    Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
    Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
    THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
    Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
    FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
    alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
    SAT 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
    Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

  •  Let's apply the same criteria to other countries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM

    who ban books.

    The Satanic Verses is an easy entrée  into that world, but there are of course tens of thousands of other titles banned in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Muslim majority countries.

    I abhor censorship of all kinds. And I'm supportive of this diary (Rec'd & Tipped) and other efforts to oppose censorship. (So long as the book does not enable violence, like instructions on how to make a bomb or whatever -- I do accept a public-safety argument, so I'm not an absolutist.)

    Just a reminder that whatever our flaws, when it comes to freedoms of the press, the US and the West in general are -- to put it bluntly and in non-PC terms -- so far ahead of most Muslim-majority countries.

    In the Islamic Republic of Iran, just to take one example, the theocratic Constitution (Article 24) says: "the press is free to express their opinion, unless it is against the foundation of Islam."  An act issued by the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution clarifies this, listing the subjects that "'do not deserve to be published', for example: Renouncing the fundamentals of religion; ...  promoting the ideas of ... illegal groups [political parties not approved by Qom, in fact any group not approved by government] and corrupted sects [e.g. Bahai, Yazidi, FSM, etc.] and defending monarchy; ... creating problems in the unity of the society and the country; mocking and weakening the national pride and nationalistic spirit, and creating an atmosphere of losing national values to the culture and civilization of western or eastern colonizing systems." Alrighty, then...

    All Muslim-majority countries have criminal laws against blasphemy and apostasy. More than 100 non-Muslim countries have no such laws. In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and several others, blasphemy is a capital offense. For example, describe Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed, as raping his nine year-old wife (as we would now correctly characterize it, since a child cannot give consent), and you can be executed.

    Welcome to the late-20th/early-21st century, in which 7th c. anachronistic religious interpretations are experiencing a comeback, and Islamic censorship is on the rise.

  •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BvueDem, FloridaSNMOM

    I appreciate this series so much!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 02:00:53 PM PDT

  •  Janet Kagan's book, "Uhura's Song," says (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BvueDem, FloridaSNMOM

    something very powerful about books and libraries. In that book a culture dependent entirely on recited (and remembered) history is explored. Youngsters are trained to remember and repeat everything they notice, and they notice far more than we might expect.

    The idea of a library, a book, or recording audio or video is so foreign to these folks that they're actually frightened -- and because the culture depends on retelling, age-old prejudices are ingrained within the information as it flows.

    LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 02:25:01 PM PDT

  •  what bothered me most (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BvueDem, anon004, FloridaSNMOM

    The College got cut $52,000 for not banning this book?  Outrageous!

  •   "If you find a book objectionable, don't read it. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BvueDem, congenitalefty, FloridaSNMOM

     If you find a book inappropriate for your school-aged children, don't let them read it.  If it's part of the syllabus, request that they read another book.  However, you have no right to determine what I can read or what my children can read.  I'm an adult and I am perfectly capable of knowing what I want to read and what is appropriate for my children.

    In other words, you take care of your own "morality" and your own children, and I'll take care of myself and my own children.

    Of course, the reason these right-wing types get their panties in a bunch about books that depict GLBT people in a positive or sympathetic way is that it interferes with their efforts to demonize them.  They can pump their own kids ' heads full of crap, but, gasp, the society around them can no longer be persuaded that Teh Gays are evil.  And, then, how you gonna get the congregation to hand over their hand-earned money when they know a crusade against Teh Gays is going to fail?

    It's all about the Grift.

  •  We have one rule for books (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BvueDem

    for our 11 year old: An adult I trust has to have read and vetted it first. Primarily this is because she's not ready for explicit sex scenes, and books that have so much violence that they make me ill are not ones I'd want her to read. This also means that there is an adult who's read it who can talk to her about the book and anything she finds disturbing or particularly interesting.

    For example, Bit likes the Mercedes Thompson series of books. She has not however read "Iron Kissed" because of the rape scene in it. Once she's a little older and more comfortable with it (we've discussed it in general terms and she's not comfortable reading it or knowing more detail right now), then she'll be allowed to read it. Part of it is her own choice at this point. She's not comfortable with sex scenes, so we filter those books out of her reading materiel. That doesn't mean that books with references to sex or "fade to black" sex scenes are off her list, just the more explicit ones.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sun Aug 10, 2014 at 08:38:15 AM PDT

  •  Somehow I missed this contemporaneously, but (0+ / 0-)

    I'll comment anyway.  I've never understood censorship, but it's a great way to increase readership (from my youth the attempts to restrict Peyton Place).

    In grad school I made comments about the stupidity of censorship including attacking the legal definition of "obscenity."  My point was that instead of the fire in a crowded theater standard, it was understood that porn was dangerous (big leap) thereby providing society with need to protect itself.  It followed then that all that was necessary was to define what was meant by the term "obscenity" thereby producing the most absurd philosophical gymnastics ending with the utmost absurdity "...but I know it when I see it" (riiiiiight!).

    For my troubles I was attacked by an older woman with "why are you so in love with porn...," etc.  She then attempted to put me in my place with, "I'm a mother; I know it's bad."  I pointed out that being a mother she must know that pregnancy seldom occurred while reading.  Of course, she refused any concession just as nobody else has.

    There was also the parent who cried out that the schools (whether from books or [horror] sex ed) were gonna load the kids up with "all those questions that they'll bring home to" (the parents)!  

    "Murder is a crime; writing about murder is not.  Sex is not a crime; writing about sex is."

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