Sex, Swears, and Aggression


If you're a book person, you already know that this week is Banned Books Week. As a writer and book lover, this is an extremely important week because yours truly believes that censorship is crap. Even High School Alicia and College Alicia didn't like the concept. It's one thing if you personally disagree/dislike/outwardly hate something, but it's totally different when you force your opinion down the throat of everyone around you.

(It's not just books that have this problem. Music and film go through the censorship wringer as well, something that sets my teeth on edge.)

When you look at the statistics on why books are banned, it's clear what people have a problem most with: sexual content, offensive language, and violence. The top ten reasons for challenging a book can be broken down into seven categories, which you can see on this super awesome pie chart.

Information taken from ALA's Challenges By Reason 1990-2010 Chart

Almost twenty-five percent of challenges are related to sex. When I told this to Bestie Danielle she said, "Basically this tells me that the separation of church and state doesn't exist." I'm in full agreement. I also don't have any problem with sexual content in books. Does this mean a ten year old should be reading hookups in divey bars? Of course not. Should the sixteen year old? Depends on the sixteen year old.

Coming from a family where the sex talk didn't happen until I was in college*, I could learn about sex and relationships in the following ways: sex ed in school (which I did), from the highly exaggerated tales from friends (which I did), books and television (which I did). While school sex ed explained the mechanics and the safety concerns, it didn't get into the stuff behind it. Books did that. Books do that.

The next largest challenge category is offensive language. This encompasses four-letter words, racial epithets, and that Lord's-name-in-vain thing, but people tend to think about the swearing.

As someone who loves the f-bomb, I have no problem with swearing. When I hear a toddler curse, I fight off the giggles because there's nothing funnier than hearing "shit" come out of a three year old's mouth. Am I advocating kindergarteners to give the bird? Nope, but I also think it's ridiculous to challenge a book because there's one too many swears, especially when you have kids reading Stephen King and others as early as middle school.

While there are some books that use these gratuitously, there's a lot that can be said by a well-placed word. In talking with Danielle about this today, she pointed out the issue of the republished Huckleberry Finn and the dropping of the N-word**. With the dropping of the word from the original text, parents and teachers are missing a teaching opportunity. It's important to have a conversation about the historical context and how that word isn't used anymore and why.

There is a lot more violence in fiction now than when I was in school***, which I think is a good reflection on society as a whole. The local news on any given night covers robberies, shootings, war, and terrorism more than they cover the cutesy stories about the corgi who mothered a squirrel.

I don't condone violence, but my writing, at times, includes it. It's part of the human condition. We've all had the "Argh, I could kill him" moment and isn't it nice to know that someone else experiences the same thing? Exploring the darker parts of the human condition is another important teaching opportunity.

It goes without saying that not all subject matter is appropriate for all audiences. As adults, we know what we're comfortable reading. Parents of small children know their kids well enough to pick books that are within the comfort zone for parent and child.

The problem arises more when dealing with middle and high school curriculum when the book selection includes more "questionable" content. Coincidentally, this is the same age group that is introduced to the harder hitting topics like sexuality and violence. It makes sense that adults want to protect children from these issues, but the head-in-the-sand method isn't the way. We shouldn't ban books that are a gateway to honest and open discussions on tough to talk about topics; we should welcome them with open arms for what they stand for.

For more information about Banned Books Week, go to the ALA website.

* Yep. You read that correctly.
** Which we both find ridiculous.
*** This might have something to do with becoming more widely read or just paying closer attention.
_________ hit of the day: One Way or Another by Blondie