Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week

by Jim

Two things I love: controversy and online quizzes. As we kick off annual Banned Books Week, the Guardian has a quiz on the subject. I confess, I only got 7 of 12 right.

But it’s the Independent which has far more interesting things to say about Banned Books Week. As they note, it’s pretty easy to laugh off people who think Harry Potter will make kids Satanists or that Judy Blume will destroy the moral fabric of a nation. Boyd Tonkin, though, digs a little deeper and presents a list of ten books that make the question of book banning a little trickier: Holocaust deniers, pedophiles, racists…should they ever be banned? Or, a different way to look at it: do they deserve to be published?

For me, the latter question is infinitely more difficult to answer. Because I’m solidly on the side that no books should be banned. At the same time, there are plenty of titles I would never represent. Take Richard Howard’s Did Six Million Really Die? He had every right to publish it, but I wouldn’t have touched it in a hazmat suit. I’m curious whether that would make me, in a manner of speaking, complicit in the “banning” of books. I’m not saying I wouldn’t represent an author I don’t agree with—there are just different levels of disagreement, you know?

Would love to know your thoughts on the issue. And whether folks think they’d be able to work with authors they thought were reprehensible in order to make money on their books.

P.S.  Just after writing this, I learned that my very own client Richelle Mead has had her entire Vampire Academy series banned at a junior high in Texas. The most striking thing about this is that the sixth book in the series, Last Sacrifice, isn’t even out yet. So it’s been banned…in the future. Magical.


  1. So... how does a YA book (with no picture) get banned for nudity?

  2. It's a question that often comes up in the library field from the collection development side as well, especially for YA books. But even with books for adults, there are collection policies that determine what we will or won't buy: books on certain subjects of low interest to our users, textbooks, self-published and even some small press books, and so on. And we strive to carry books representing all sides of important issues, but what about the really far-out stuff, especially if it's not from a major publisher? It's a question librarians grapple with all the time, even without public pressure to ban something: if we don't select a book, are we in effect banning it?

    Thanks for reminding me to blog about Banned Books Week, btw. I've let my blog slip recently but this is a good opportunity to get back on top of it.

    As for whether I'd work with an author whose work I found reprehensible (if I were an agent or editor, I presume): I probably wouldn't. It's a free market and if the book has any merit, I'd count on someone else to pick it up. The money wouldn't be worth compromising my own ideals if I were really bothered by the subject matter or opinions expressed.

  3. When I get published, I would love to have one of my books banned. There is no more sure-fire way to gaurantee the stoking of the public's curiousity about something than to ban it. Kind of like how I always tried to sneak a peek at late night Cinemax when growing up, because my mother expressly forbid it.

    To answer the question, no I don't think I could work with someone whose work went against what I believed in simply to make money (even a great deal of money). Unfortunately, I have too strong a sense of what fairness to allow myself to do that. Fortunately, I'm quite open-minded so it would take something really offensive to turn me off to a project completely.

  4. I don't know that books "deserve" anything, including publication. I think authors deserve the opportunity to publish. I guess publishers are really the ones who decide what "deserves" to be published... and they decide that based on what they think the public will decide "deserves" to be purchased ;)

  5. I don't believe in banning books. I know that some of the MS's that I have worked on would be banned by certain groups in the US. However, I don't feel that someone should sell out their values to make money. I wouldn't write something just because it was going to make me money and I don't think that agents should publish just because it is going to make them money.

  6. Kristin Nelson just posted today about turning down a book that had multiple offers of representation. She thought the book would sell but wasn't passionate about it.

    I don't think declining to represent a book (such as one denying the Holocaust happened) makes you complicit in book-banning. It means you chose not to take on a project because you weren't passionate about it. You didn't tell other people NOT to read it, or stage a protest trying to have the book removed from schools/libraries/etc. I wouldn't take on a book like that (or one like that O.J. Simpson one) for a million dollars, but I absolutely support the right for those books to be in the world--and I support my right not to read them.

  7. A similar thing happened to me recently. I stumbled across a really old, dusty book at a shop that most people there had forgotten about. I don't remember what it was called, but it was by a serial rapist recounting his side of the story.

    I dropped it and went back to the YA section, disgusted. I had no interest in reading about someone making excuses for his violent crimes. But that's my choice and I think it should be up to the reader. If someone wants to write/represent/publish a book about a controversial or horrific subject, they ought to be free to (and equally free not to).

    I think the principle of book-banning annoys me so much because it's all about that idea of someone else telling you what you should read or think. Declining to represent or read something doesn't make us complicit (unless we claim outright that the book should be burned). I think it just makes us willing to exercise our right to choose what we read and endorse.

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  10. Also, in honor of Banned Book Week, I posted today about the book SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and we're giving it away on the blog. :)

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