Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why I love banned books

I ran across this story today, about the controversy the newest Newberry Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, has inspired. (I'm including a link to Amazon's page for the book, in case anyone else is like me and likes to show their support for banned books by buying them.)

Basically, the book has been banned in some schools because it uses the word "scrotum." The use isn't anything sexual, either: according to NPR, the word is used simply "to describe where a dog gets a snake bite."

What exactly are we protecting our children from here? Knowing the real name for a body part that half the population has? Let's get real here, folks. What exactly do you think it is going to do to our children to know this word?

In my opinion, the worst danger is in painting the body's natural sexuality as a forbidden fruit. As Mark Twain said in Tom Sawyer, "in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain."

In this case, as the children learn they can't read a certain book because it contains the word "scrotum," I imagine there are whole armies of children who are going to go home tonight and ask, "Mommy, what's a scrotum?" Hopefully, most mommies and daddies will have the sense to explain it in a matter-of-fact way, satisfying the child's curiosity and thereby ending the allure of the forbidden fruit.

Naturally, though, there will be a great many parents who shy away from the topic. Intrigued by whatever it is that makes Mommy stutter and blush like that, little Sally may stop asking, but her mind doesn't stop wondering. And in time, she may decide to find out for herself. Having been thwarted in her quest for knowledge by a well-meaning adult, it's highly unlikely she'll try that route again.

Now let's look at what might happen if the book weren't banned, and little Sally was reading it. She gets to the part where the word "scrotum" is used, and asks absentmindedly, "Mommy, what's a scrotum?"

Mommy's answer might range from, "It's a body part that only boys have," to showing Sally the corresponding anatomy on her own dog (or gerbil or hamster). If Sally gets very curious, Mommy might produce a children's anatomy book or search online for an anatomically correct drawing to show Sally, but chances are that the first answer has satisfied Sally. This is nothing special, or even particularly interesting; and, having solved a minor mystery, she goes back to reading.

Unfortunately, though, some people can't be satisfied with this. Our society has maintained the Victorian fear that learning certain words or knowing certain realities will cause our children (namely our girls) to become miniature sexual wantons. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't find anything remotely sexual about the imagery of a dog's "scrotum" getting bitten by a snake.

I realize that this explains more of why I'm against banning books, rather than why I love banned books. The truth is, I have immense respect for anyone willing to go against the expectations of our society, no matter how minor the transgression is. In fact, some of my favorite authors and literary heroes have also been very controversial: Judy Blume, the Bronte sisters, etc.

My advice to all of you is to support banned books as much as you can. Buy them, read them, recommend them - anything that you can do to counteract the efforts of the knowledge-Nazis who try to ban them.


fahrenheit451moderator said...

If you would like to read more banned books, would you like to take part in our "Banned Book Challenge?" Here are the details: http://www.pelhamlibrary.blogspot.com/2007/02/take-banned-book-challenge.html

B said...

Anyone who'd yank a book from the library shelves because it contained the word "scrotum" has a standing invitation to kiss mine.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Except, of course, that I agree with you 110%


Katharine Swan said...

Thanks fahrenheit451 - I'll check it out!

And Carson - thanks for putting it so eloquently. :o)


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