It’s Banned (and Challenged) Books Week

…and I feel like I should say something. But what to say. I suppose that the books or stories of mine that I think will offend almost never are, and the ones that do offend almost always catch me by surprise. Way to keep me on my toes, I guess.

The Boy from Willow Bend , my first book, is on schools reading lists and so (early on, not so much lately) did attract some …push back… for language and sexual content. In fact, I remember once being called to the principal’s office (not literally but I was invited to a meeting at the Ministry of Education to discuss the content). I remember being bemused as we went over the offending parts because I didn’t understand the point of it…what was I supposed to do…the book was already in print, years by that point, and had been selected for the reading list which I had nothing to do with (and I couldn’t have been more thrilled about that)…but what was I supposed to do…or I suppose the question is what was I inclined to do…I’ve actually been asked (not by my local Ministry of Education) would I consider cutting a particular scene as a school on another island considered adding it but as a religious school (I believe) objected to the scene. I said no, I wouldn’t consider it.

Dancing Nude in the Moonlight , my second book, was championed by a teacher at a local school who invited me in to answer her students’ questions. I don’t believe it was an official pick, which is why I frame it like that. I also believe she got in to some trouble for teaching it (but I don’t know the details). What I do have first hand experience of is a parent saying to me that some other parents had tried to rally her to raise their objections over the teaching of the book, so she read it, and, the whole point of her telling me this story, she didn’t see what the problem was – she thought her daughter could handle it.

I’ll tell you the weird thing that happens when one of your books is challenged, you do experience some dissonance, instinctively checking to see if the thing you’d written was other than you remembered writing it, because it surely couldn’t be that that had them vexed so…because you’ve written more vexing things, and…

But I’m never mad, not yet, curious more than anything about why the writing is so triggering, and oddly delighted to have triggered a reaction in a reader (assuming they’ve read the book and are not just going along with the opinions of others). Not delighted to have triggered a negative reaction you understand but (as with laughter and tears) a reaction other than indifference, I guess. I’m not happy if my books get pulled and book burning is fighting words but *knock on wood* it hasn’t been that serious yet. Though I believe the teaching of Dancing was discontinued, Willow Bend is still on the schools’ reading list and Musical Youth has been added. This #gyalfromOttosAntigua still can’t quite believe that.

Obviously I don’t believe in banning books, though you have the right to like or not like any book you like or don’t like. Also tastes change and vary. The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders were banned in the US (according to wikipedia, so grain of salt) until the obscenity laws were overturned in 1959. I studied both as works of classic literature by major authors at the Antigua State College. George Orwell’s Animal Farm was (as in is no more) banned in the UAE because of its anthropomorphic characters (something I discovered is a thing in conversation with a publisher about one of my own children’s books). It’s not all about sex and language – and often it’s about ideas that make others uncomfortable. I believe in freedom of expression but, believe it or not, I do understand how challenging it is for parents to moderate some of what their children have access to (especially with the internet being the wild, wild west) so that, as we would say, dem brain nuh open up too fasss. But, per examples above, is there a more moderating influence than school.

How about you? If you’re an author, do you have experience with your book being challenged or banned? If you’re a reader, is there a challenged or banned book that you love or a book that was once challenged or banned that is now accepted that you want to talk about?

Let’s talk in the comments.

ABOUT Banned Books Week – per wikipedia (I know but I don’t have the time to dig up other references), it is an annual awareness campaign promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International that celebrates the freedom to read, and draws attention to banned and challenged books. It runs this year from September 26th to October 2nd 2021.

Incidentally October 2nd is the date of my next/upcoming workshop. See you there if you have interest in the topic.

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