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For those of you who don’t know, I work in a public library. Those of you who do know me should be aware that I have taken a strong stance against censorship in all forms, especially in the last few years, but it started long ago, back when I first discovered Banned Books Week. Even as a young child, I was a voracious reader, having completed my own trips through The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by the time I started second grade. I wanted to read everything that I could get my hands on, and I couldn’t understand why it was that some people would try to keep other people from reading anything.

The process of banning books is a lengthy one. Books are challenged all the time, by parents and religious groups and teachers. Librarians don’t sift through the books they’re acquiring to determine whether or not they should go on the shelves. Librarians (and libraries) promote the ability of the patron to access any information the patron may seek, regardless of personal opinion. Personal opinion should never EVER come into play when determining what works should be available to the public. “When filling their shelves, librarians do not judge the content of books on whether it would be suitable for all audiences. As public institutions, libraries may not discriminate on disseminating information on the basis of age, sex or race, which means that people can check out whatever materials they choose. That said, libraries request that parents and guardians of minors monitor their selections.” -Cristen Conger, How Stuff Works

People come up with all manner of excuses for why they want to ban certain books. This one has violence in it. That one has sex in it. There’s offensive language here. There’s racial insensitivity there. In many cases from my personal experience, however, the people who are attempting to ban a book have not read it for themselves. They have merely taken negative hype surrounding a book and made their opinion solely based on the opinions of others. Yay, sheeple!

Earlier this week, I was at work when a library patron came in, returning a book on playaway that he claimed was “pornography” and demanding that we start the ball rolling to get the book banned from our library. The title in question? Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. Ever read anything by Warren Ellis? This is the guy who created Transmetropolitan, the story of journalist Spider Jersualem, whose character is heavily inspired by the real life of Hunter S. Thompson and who uses a bowel disruptor gun as his weapon of choice. Crooked Little Vein is unabashedly intense. Reading the blurb on the case could have told him that. Thirty seconds on the internet could have told this patron that.

From wikipedia: “Michael McGill, a burned-out private eye is hired by a corrupt White House Chief of Staff to find a second “secret” United States Constitution, which had been lost in a whorehouse by Richard Nixon. What follows is a scavenger hunt across America, exposing its seedier side along the way. McGill is joined by surreal college student side-kick, Trix, who is writing a thesis on sexual fetishes. McGill has to deal with strange events sometimes unrelated to his adventures – he describes himself as a ‘shit-magnet’, with weird phenomena following him wherever he goes…About.com reviewer Jonathan Lasser called Crooked Little Vein “an ace put-up job” and that it was “evidence that freedom is more valuable than repression”. Whitney Pastorek, reviewing for Entertainment Weekly takes pains to note that the work “is not for the faint of heart”, and that Ellis has “got a bright future outside of the picture books”. 

I don’t even know that this patron finished the book. My honest guess? He got too upset because something in the book disagreed with his narrow world view and shut it off. Ignorance is not bliss, people. Ignorance is ignorance, plain and simple. We have to move to the point of object permanence. Hell, two-year-olds understand that covering her eyes doesn’t make mommy disappear. We’ve got way too many heads and not enough sand for this crap to work. Acknowledge that there might be something out there that you don’t agree with, and that it’s not going to go away.

I’m tired of people blaming writers for things that they don’t like. I’m tired of people taking offense at libraries for providing freedom of access to material. Book banning and challenging is a form of oppression of the people. We need to open our eyes, and face the future with courage. Stop book banning. Stop ignorance. Embrace knowledge. Visit your local library and tell them how much you appreciate what they do for you. I’m going to go read Warren Ellis.

2 Comments

  1. What baffles me is when people want to ban books that have NOTHING WRONG WITH THEM. If a book is explicitly sexual or violent, I’m not saying it should be banned, but I do get parents’ arguments that there should be… I don’t know, a warning label or something. It’s not always easy to tell if a book is going to be a little out-there – I bought a book maybe two years ago that billed itself as a basic romance – girl meets boy, boy is rich and handsome, girl swoons, etc. – but once you got a few chapters in, it was the most racist, sexist thing imaginable. Again, not saying it should be banned, just that it should better advertise what it really is.

    But then you get things like Harry Potter, or the Hunger Games. COME ON. They aren’t sexually explicit, the violence is present but fairly minimal, and the only thing these books are teaching you is to think for yourself, be kind to others, and challenge things that you don’t agree with. I’d like to share a link with you: http://www.rinkworks.com/bookaminute/b/rowling.stone.shtml . It is an ultra-condensed version of Harry Potter, and it is hysterical.

    • I’m all for parents knowing what their kids are reading. At my library, we’ll issue cards to kids, but only with a parent or guardian’s permission until they are at least 16 years old. This helps to ensure that parents have a chance to monitor the checkouts. It’s PARENTING, though, and today too many parents aren’t willing to actually do it. They’d rather heap the responsibility on everyone else, forcing blame upon groups or organizations when they should be taking it upon themselves. It’s frustrating and confusing all at the same time.

      Thanks for the link! I’ve read it a couple of times before, actually, but it’s always good.


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