Friday, February 05, 2010

Censorship shmensorship

by Rachel

An article in the Guardian caught my attention this week regarding the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the banning of certain books. Alice Walker, John Updike and even Pablo Neruda are some of the authors whose books are banned from entering correctional facilities. Texan prison officials say that restrictions on reading material are for the good of everyone.

This got me thinking. The only reason I first picked up a copy of Lolita was because I’d heard it had once been banned. And this is precisely why I grabbed a copy of Madame Bovary when I was in the seventh grade and read it over a weekend. If you’re going to ban a book, there’s a good chance people will want to read it and will read it. Humans are inquisitive! Tell us something is bad or immoral, and we’ll need proof of that. So, we’ll stay up all night (I will, at least) reading banned or formerly banned books, trying to understand why a story has been censored.

I’m not sure I agree with books being banned anywhere. Some people might argue that certain books should be banned in prisons to avoid disrupting an inmate’s rehabilitation, but I’m not a fan of censoring ideas of any kind, whether people think it’s for the greater good or not.


  1. Great blog post. If you think the Texas prisons are bad, you would gnash your teeth over the list of books banned in Texas schools. Text books are censored from first grade all the way through high school. Texas has one of the lowest literacy rates in the U.S. hummm I wonder if censorship is related to literacy.

  2. It's interesting to see this because I was doing research for my WIP earlier today, and I needed to know if prisoners do indeed have TV. I found an interesting blog post by a former prisoner who wrote all about how they do have TV and many of the shows that are on, are shows people would say are not appropriate for children (violence, cop shows, rape, murder, etc.) and he didn't think they were appropriate for prisoners. I'm not sure how I feel about books being banned in prison. I actually have an I Read Banned Books button on my backpack at all times (and I wear it to the school where I am a writer in residence and the kids love it), but perhaps prisoners should have their choices somewhat limited while they rehabilitate (if they are). I actually never thought I'd say that any book should be banned, and I'm not really sure in this case, but in a way, it's PRISON, right? I mean, you lose privileges in prison and maybe it's not such a horrible idea. Although, I'm sure someone could make an argument against the idea and sway me as I'm pretty much on the fence here, even though I am against banning books in general.

  3. Banning books has always been an interesting topic to me. As "bad" as a book may be, I find value in virtually everything I read. It amazes me that books like Huck Finn are banned (because of racism - what's the point without it?) or Harry Potter (black magic). What are people thinking sometimes? I think "banning" should happen within a home. What I think is appropriate for my kids may not be what someone else thinks is appropriate and vice versa. But shouldn't I be allowed to make that decision rather than someone else make the decision for me?

    Maybe we should have a rating system of some sort for books. After all, movies, TV, and video games have all adopted them. Why should books be any different? It would certainly solve the need to "ban" a book if readers can easily recognize what they may encounter.

  4. I don't know. I think there are definitely books out there that I'd rather not have prison inmates reading, considering most are already struggling enough as it is.

    But in those cases, there are restricted liberties enforced because of past decisions. So I don't mind too much limiting them regarding things that the officials in charge feel will help them.

    In my opinion, however, it would be an entirely different matter when censoring something from the general public. That is where I would cry foul, even if I personally disagree with the content of certain books.

  5. I remember when I was a little kid, the old crusty librarian wouldn't let me check out the Harlequin romances because they were too steamy. What a crock!

  6. I’m with Heidi Thornock. I definitely think there should be a rating system for books. Not to protect readers, but so when my horror novel is published it can be rated a hard ‘R.’ It would probably get more readers that way.

    Also, I think prisoners should be allowed to read anything shy of “The Idiot’s Guide to Breaking Out of Prison.” Unless the prisoner is walking The Green Mile, presumably he or she will be returned to society to try and function among the rest of us. Wouldn’t it be nice if they used their time out to expand their minds and get hip to a better way of thinking? If nothing else, they might become more proficient criminals less likely to do harm to innocent bystanders (only their victims).

    Finally, as prisons have been privatized and American prison populations are ever expanding to raise stock prices, there’s a much greater chance that some of us blog readers will wind up in a correctional facility under questionable circumstances. I, for one, love Alice Walker, and would be very upset to have her taken away. If wardens are finding that Walker’s prose is stirring up all sorts of emotions and sparking ideas in the general population, that’s just Alice Walker doing that which makes her one of our best writers.

  7. If books are banned for adults, what's next? Will certain thoughts someday be illegal?

    Now, I'm not saying we buy HAROLD'S STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO EXPLOSIVES MANUFACTURING or PRISON BREAKS FOR DUMMIES, but let people read what they want to read, for goodness' sake.

    I wouldn't want anyone telling me what I could or couldn't write or read.


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