Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Burning???

Book Burning?? When I read the headlines, I was like WTF?? Is this the 1950's?? That can't possibly be in AMERICA. The Land of the FREE. No way. Then I read this article posted at ABC News. There isn't any that burns my ass (pardon the expression) more than censorship. While I fully admit that some books aren't meant for all readers, I deplore the idea that someone out there wants to take away my RIGHT to choose whether a book is ok for me or my kids.

In West Bend, Wisconsin, the Christian Civil Liberties Union has petitioned the courts to have the "racist book be removed and publicly burned or destroyed as a deterrent to repeating this offensive conduct." And not only that, they would like damages in the amount of $120,000 paid to them. The book in question? Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block. A description of the book from Publisher's Weekly:

A prequel of sorts to Weetzie Bat, the novel opens while Weetzie's best friend Dirk is still a child, lying on his mat at naptime. ``Dirk had known it since he could remember''-known, that is, that he is gay. Tenderly raised by Grandma Fifi, famous for her pastries and her 1955 Pontiac convertible, Dirk struggles with love and fear: ``He wanted to be strong and to love someone who was strong; he wanted to meet any gaze, to laugh under the brightest sunlight and never hide.'' After his first heartbreak, with his closest friend (who cannot accept Dirk's love nor his own for Dirk), Dirk battles more fiercely for identity; beaten up by a gang of punks, he slumps into semiconsciousness and is visited by his ancestors, each telling a haunting, lyrical tale of love, faith and self-acceptance. What might seem didactic from lesser writers becomes a gleaming gift from Block.

Now, mind you, I am writing this post without actually having read said book. However, I have read Lia Block before and her lyrical writing really is beautiful. But the CCLU has stated that this book is "explicitly vulgar, racial and anti-Christian" and is "inappropriate for the elderly and their minor grandchildren, and degrades the community," according to the complaint. Braun said he found the homosexual content particularly offensive. "They call one character 'faggot' with every swear word you can think of ... and they use the N-word," Braun said.

This isn't the first book on Homosexuality that has been challenged. And it won't be the last. I'm pretty confident that the chances the court will uphold a request to burn a book to be extremely unlikely. BUT that doesn't really make me feel any better. For a few reasons.

First of all, there are lots of books out there that I deem offensive (particularly anything written by Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly!), but I don't call to have them burned. Just because I don't agree with them doesn't give me the right to say they should be removed from book shelves...especially at a community library that's sole purpose is to give their community a vast choice of books to read. What do I do? I CHOOSE not to read them. Period. End of story. What I take offense to is having someone else's values shoved down my throat. If this group doesn't like the fact that the library has chosen to have Lia Block's book on the shelf, don't read it. Give up your library card if it means that much to you. But DO NOT petition a court for removal of said book and certainly don't burn it. THAT is a violation of the rights of others that would like to read this book.

You know, I am a Catholic. That makes me a Christian. One of the things that the church has taught me is to love and respect others, no matter what they believe in. To call yourself a Christian and then spout such hate-mongering words (and believe me, this is hate-mongering) goes against everything being a Christian is all about. It is fundamentally wrong.

Secondly, people need to wake up and realize the world we live in today is vastly different than the time we grew up in. Folks, this isn't the 1950's. Our children are facing challenges that need to be addressed. And I'm sorry, but Little House on the Prairie books are fine, but they certainly aren't indicative of the world we live in today. I think it's terrible that people think young adults today need to be shielded from topics like racism, sexism, and homosexuality. Young adults today are more worldly than ever and certainly are discerning enough to be able to handle these topics.

This whole lawsuit is just grandstanding, and frankly, it makes me sick. I would love to be able to stand-up in West Bend, Wisconsin, and make my voice heard. But I can't. So, this post is going to be my voice. Stand Tall, West Bend Community Library. I am behind you. Don't cave in to the intolerance and hate. Do what is right. I know you will.

Chime in here readers. What do you think? Am I wrong for being so offended by this? Are you offended by it?? What else can we, as readers, do? I'm all ears!!


valentina said...

I heard about this, and my immediate reaction was "why now?" I mean the book wasn't published yesterday, but years ago! so it doesn't make sense. Were they only looking for controversy and the first YA book they found dealing with homosexuality got condemned? I don't get it!
I'm gonna read the book now, in honour of a fantastic writer like Francesca Lia Block!

ps: isn't it amazing how people can claim a book is racist just cause it uses certain words? Also isn't it ironic that they are against homosexuality BUT they claim the book is racist because it uses the word faggot?
these people are definitely degrading their community.

Renay said...

You know, I try getting angry about these things, but most of time I don't bother because my blood pressure can't take it. I just sit back and let these bigots dig their own grave, because they are so ridiculous and out of touch they feel they need to pull things like this just to stay relevant. It's concern trolling at its best! They're very sad people and I feel sorry for them for their lack of critical thinking skills, their failure to understand literature, and their desperate showboating.

Nicola said...

I probably shouldn't even answer as you book bloggers are a liberal bunch. I know my opinion will not be shared with anyone else but you did ask.

So, I'll just duck and let the mud slinging fly. Still friends, I hope.

First, I haven't read the book and now that I know the topic I have no intention to. That's my choice. As adult's I agree with everything you said. All reading material should be available to adults (as long as it's legal) and we can exercise our right to whether we read it or not.

However for children, parents and parents alone (not some committee) should make these decisions. And I would have major problems if my child was exposed to a book that blatantly expoused views that were contrary to our believe system without me there to discuss it with him and how our beliefs are different and to explain what is wrong with the book. Many children's history books are anti-Catholic and I run into this all the time.

I don't believe in book burning, and that just seems like grand standing for publicity to me.

But these people have a right to do this, last I heard America was still a free country (Obama hasn't turned you guys into socialists yet) and as you said it's not likely to turn out in there favour.

You have a right to chose whether you want your children to read books but other people also pay their taxes to run a public community library and have the right to expect that their children will not be exposed to books that they find untolerably offensive.

I mean you must have a subject that would make you feel the same way. It's just because this subject doesn't bother you that you are offended by the so-called "book-banning". Think of a subject you are totally against and imagine your children having free access to books that they can read in the library without your knowledge. Euthanasia, abortion, Satanism, the joys of polygomy, S & M. You must have your own line, somewhere?

Last I heard O'Reilly hadn't written a children's book at all, least of all one about homosexuality or one with the n-word in it or one that was anti-Christian.

I'm a Catholic, as you are, and as such you should know the Church's stance on homosexuality. If my son came home with this book from his Catholic school I'd have something to say to the authorities there. He wouldn't come home with this book from the public library because I would be there with him and pre-approve his reading material until he was of age as I did with his older brother.

Now everybody else can say why they agree with you.

Lori L said...

I don't believe in burning books, however this group does have the right to protest any book they want to if that book challenges their beliefs. This principle goes both ways... and examples can be found on both sides.

Funny you should mention the Little House books as if they would be held up as paragons of virtue. When I read Little House on the Prairie to my children many years ago (for some odd reason I had never read them as a child) I was actually offended by the way the Native Americans were written about in it. I also found both Ma and Pa less than stellar examples of great parents (For example Ma favored baby Carrie; Pa was full of wanderlust). What happened at our house was not a banning or burning of the book, but some great discussions did ensue.

We had an age appropriate discussion about placing books in a historical context, and how being able to critically analyze a much loved book only enhanced it's value.

valentina said...

@Nicole,as one who agrees with Stephanie, I'd like to comment on what you just said.
You contradict yourself more than once. You say:"for children, parents and parents alone (not some committee) should make these decisions." but then you say:"But these people have a right to do this,".
They have a right to choose for you and for others, to demand that this book would be remove from the libraries, because it might offend their views? I see that as a big contradiction to what you said at the beginning.

Also you say"He wouldn't come home with this book from the public library because I would be there with him and pre-approve his reading material"
So, it's you who should be there and protect him/her from potential harmful material.
NOT some conservative bunch who burns them so you can't even decide if it's actually harmful or not.

If my child is "exposed" to books I don't approve of, I certainly won't think he/she would be damaged for life. I'd probably talk to them about it, explain why I don't think they should read them and why I don't agree with them, but as young adults, I also believe they have a right to start thinking for themselves and make their own young adult minds.

Stephanie said...

Valentina - I agree. The book isn't new, and to be honest, it was completely off my radar until now. But I definitely want to read it now! And I think they are just as racist/bigoted for their views on homosexuality!!

Renay - I know. My blood pressure is up right now!! Drives me crazy!!

Nicola - Of course we are still friends!! That's the beauty of it. We can have our own opinions and still be friends. Just because we believe different things doesn't mean squat to me personally.

BUT, I do disagree with you. First of all...and I haven't read the book yet, but from what I can tell, it's not a bad one. It's about personal choice and being comfortable in your skin. People are gay. It's a fact of life, and shielding my kids from that fact is not going to change anything. I have gay friends. In fact, my kids' godfather is gay. He is the sweetest person alive and would die for my kids. And they know that.

For me, it's important that they know these things. It's important for me to have them learn love and respect of others no matter what the differnce is. It's not like I'm exposing them to blatant porn. That's not what this issue is about.

It's about one group of people that feel the need to push their ideas on to me. I don't like that. If my son came home from the library with a book by hate-mongering Ann Coulter, I would be upset. But I would talk to him and let him know how I feel about it. Why I don't like it. I still wouldn't stop him from reading it.

I don't book burning in any sense of the word is good, no matter whether I like the topic, agree with it or hate it. It's censorship and should be stopped. As should these people.

Stephanie said...

Lori - I am not in the least saying they don't have the right to protest a book. But I do think it's wrong that they want to take a book from a public library and burn it because they don't like it. I don't believe in censorship. At all. I really loathe it. People can dislike something, but to push their values on me, and take that choice away from ME makes me mad!

Thanks all for such a great discussion. That's what I wanted!

Debi said...

Wrong to be offended? HELL NO, Steph, how could you not be offended? When I first heard about this a few days ago, I was literally sick to my stomach. Yes, literally.

And you know what, if every book that offended someone had to be pulled from the shelves, there wouldn't be anything left to read. Like you said, there are certainly enough books out there that I find offensive, but I'm not going to deny anyone else's right to read them.

Renay said...

@ Nicole Your comment actually examples what I think is the root of the problem. Parents know better than librarians who have trained and studied for years to work for the public what content is and is not suitable for their children—and every other child that library serves? What are we training librarians for if one set of parents know every book every child in their county, their region, their state, should be reading? What are we training librarians for if any group with an agenda can come in and remove items from the shelves on a whim?

In this situation, this group of people is trying to dictate what books should and should not be a library. Yes, they have a right to protest the book. In fact, they have a right to buy a copy and set it on fire amid hundreds of their frothing supporters. That's a guaranteed right and more power to them for burning their dollars.

They do not have the right to remove a book because they are Christian and don't like gay people. That's all this boils down to. I am fine with people not liking gay people, as long as they don't try to erase gay experiences. For context: as a genderqueer person, am I evil? People speak of being EXPOSED to GLBTQ content like me and my people are a virus, a germ, something to be eradicated at all costs. Do my experiences deserve to be erased by a group, espousing a religion I don't share? No. Absolutely not. The West Bend community deserves better.

When religious groups come in to say "we want this book gone, NOW, or else", yes, it's wrong, because they are attempting to erase a particular experience. When they attempt to remove a piece of literature, when they attempt to bully a public institution using their faith, when they want to control what the public does and does not see, yes, it's wrong. What's not wrong: parents parenting, and controlling what books and ideas and concepts their child sees, being an active participant in their reading development—not expecting a library that has to serve many people and cultures and faiths to cater to one faith, one set of morals, one culture. Absolutely no one has a right to carve into a public institution their own morality.

Stephanie said...

Debi - My soul sister, I know you'd get me!!

Renay - Very well said. That's what I was trying not so eloquanitly to say! Thank you so much for your comments. they are all appreciated!!

Lori L said...

We probably agree more than it appears, Stephanie, LOL!
I also don't advocate burning a book from a public library because a certain group doesn't like it.
But I do support (as you do) their right to protest it. Actually any burning or protesting of a book simply calls more attention to it and readership will likely increase.

cj said...

Stephanie -

I think you know that you and I don't agree poltically, which is fine. I'm with you on the fact that book burning (they really asked for the books to be burned??) is wrong. I'm an advocate for free speech and expression - I stood with the athiests who wanted to display an anti-God tract at the Seattle airport last Christmas. I didn't like what they said but they have the right to say it. Free speech (which I consider books) is for all speech or it is for none. It's that simple for me. Don't like a book or a TV show - don't read or watch it.

Now, that said, I have a serious question for you, one I hope doesn't ruffle any feathers. I'll grant you that Ann Coulter can be abrasive, to put it mildly, but have you read anything by Bill O'Reilly? I'm curious to know what you find so disagreeable about him. The theme of his "Who's Looking Out For You" was that of being careful who you invest your time and money in and don't get heavily invested in those people who are out for themselves. At least that's the way I took it.

Hopefully, the courts will deal with this idiocy in the way the courts have consistently dealt with it.


Michelle said...

Ignorant lawsuits like this remind me to a line in the movie The American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. In it, Michael Douglas' character, as President, states the following: "Everybody knows America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.' Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

The West Bend lawsuit is an example of this. As book lovers, we don't agree with this type of protest, but the fact that they are allowed to express their opinions like that should be something we can celebrate. Think about what is occurring in Iran right now. We have to consider ourselves grateful for being allowed to express such opposing sentiments without fear of retribution or punishment.

Jamie said...

I've been following the book challenge in West Bend for the Kids' Right to Read Project. The public library is a place for everyone (says the Supreme Court and thus is the law of the land). No one has to read a book just because it appears on the library shelves.

For KRRP I also interviewed one of the challenged authors, Brent Hartinger, and 2 community activists who were spoke out for free speech and the right to read. Let me know what you think...

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

The hypocrisy of some people/groups is astounding!

Do you follow "451 Fridays" over at "As Usual I Need More Bookshelves" ?

Stephanie said...

Michelle - I don't want anyone to think I'm against the idea of a protest, because I'm not. I'm all about first amendment rights. If they want to protest, go for it!!

But protesting a book you don't agree with, and demanding that it be pulled off the shelf and burned in public so NO ONE is allowed to read it, is something else entirely. That takes away MY right as a citizen to decide for myself.

It all comes back to others wanting to press their morals on me. Force-feeding me their ideas on what is right and wrong. And I don't agree. It's blatant censorship and it must be stopped!

CJ - I realize you and I have 2 very different set of ideas when it comes to stuff like this and that's fine! It's what makes the world go around. But I still think O-Reilly is an idiot. I mean the man thought Michelle Obama should be "lynched" (his word) for her critism of this country. And that's just one of many hate-spewing things the man has said. To me, stuff like that just nullifies any good he might actually have to say.

Jamie - I looked at your website. Thank you for what you guys are trying to do!!

Dawn - Thanks for chiming in. No, I'm not familiar with the 451 Fridays, but I'll definitely check it out.

Nymeth said...

I don't have anything to add to the discussion at this point, as anything I wanted to say has already been said, but I still wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your post and the comments.

Joanne said...

Loved this post! And the opinions it's provoked. So interesting to hear how everyone feels about this controversial topic.

My opinion is that the group has the right to state their disapproval of library material. But they should have no impact on the removal of material. A public library is just that - public. Which means it serves the entire community.
About it being a children's book and needing to protect the kids - that's the parents responsibility not the libraries. I know what my kids are reading, and I hold the power to say no - to my kids, not the general public.

Also the type of offensive content in books is open to interpretation. Language, sex, violence, racial content do not bother me if they are used in an appropriate way. But just as everyone has an opinion, everyone also has a different lifestyle.

We are a family that believes in personal religion, rather than organized. So what about the overly-religious books my library carries? The ones that tell my kids their souls will burn forever in Hell if they don't accept Jesus as their savior? -And yes I've seen young reader material like this- Or what if my kids read a book that tells them they are evil, wrong, abominations if they are gay? This is the most offensive and dangerous thing I have ever seen, and I could rally against this material, but instead I avoid them.

It's about choice, personal taste, and responsibility. If you don't want your kids to read something, that's fine, be a responsible parent. But don't ever try to parent my own child. Like a mama lion I will defend my cubs and their rights to choose.

Sorry for the babble.

Trish said...

Boils your blood, doesn't it? There is a new book out containing essays edited by Toni Morrison about freedom of speech and censorship and book burning that I'll be talking about on Sunday (if I can pull it together!).

Choice is such a wonderful thing. Choice and freedom. You're right--this isn't the 1950s--get with it people! :)

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Oh my god. My stomach just felt as though it turned inside out when I read that article. What year is this?! What concerns me most is th example that this is setting for the children who have already admitted (to quote the child mentioned) that 'no one reads any more'. Not only are these kids being taught that it is acceptable to shun literature on a whole... they are now being taught that it is alright to burn ideas with out first hearing the story behind them. That is the same as teaching bigotry with out reason. I am disgusted and can not wait to read Morrison's book.

Nicend said...

I have read quite a lot of books in the few years of my eighteen years of life and I have read some absolutely horrendous book. Mind you, I would never want then to be banned...or randomly burned for some stupid manner that does little more than force the manufacturer to create more, inflating the book sales of said book.

I remember reading Stepheny Meyer's Twilight (the first book of her vampire series) and found it a terrible book that any decent fanfic writer could probably improve upon, but I didn't want in removed from the shelves. It is there4 because someone wanted it has nothing to do with me.

I also remember, quite a few years ago when I was probably somewhere around ten and reading a book about the holocaust (a choose your own adventure, amazingly) and I remember been greatly upset about the story I read, but I wouldn't ask for it to be taken off the shelves,

Every book is on its shelf for two simple reasons, someone wanted to provide a story and someone wanted to read it. If it made it to the shelf, it is NONE of anyone's business about who reads it.

If you are concerned about what your child reads, then go with them and help them choose, otherwise don't complain and realise it is your fault. The same applies for movies, music, websites, art and even people.

This comment is aimed at anyone who even CONSIDERS the idea of banning a book/ movie/ artwork/ websites/ people/ whatever. It is no one's business to take something from the shelves, no matter who it is aimed at or what it's purpose is.

The only exception is something illegal, such as real CP (I will only ever type the acronym). Anything else is merely someone' opinion that people should learn to get along with.

However, with that said, perhaps we could introduce a ratings system for books, though it would be greatly relaxed (in comparison to movies) due to books dependence on the reader's own imagination.

So, in summation of this long useless rant, people should mind their own business...and maybe we should rate books to make it easier for parents to make a choice for their kids.

Gayla said...

I found your blog from Trish's Reading Nook. I've been making the rounds on book blogs lately because I just LOVE to read and talk about reading. Can't get enough of it :) You're a very talented writer yourself and I like your blog--a lot. I knew you were OK when you said you don't believe in censorship (nor do I) and you don't care for Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly (two of the biggest hate-mongers alive and dislike them both). (Lol)
This nut-job in Wisconsin is definitely a hate-monger like you said! It amazes me that this crap is still going on. We've got much more important things to worry about in this world. And if their offended by this book, which from what I've seen isn't all that bad, then don't read it!! It's truly that simple.

Thanks for the great post-I really enjoyed it.

PS: Valentina, I appreciate and totally agree with your opinion on "Nicola's comments. Thank you :)

Tif said...

What a great conversation! Thanks for posting!! I agree with you wholeheartedly (on more than one of the topics you brought up!). In fact, I referenced your article and wrote a few more notes about it myself on my blog. Feel free to check it out when you get the chance . . .

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