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I bought a book about Koko, the gorilla who learned ASL, for my niece who wanted to be a vet when she grew up.
Her parents, fundamentalists, returned it, deeply offended because it supported evolution, or at least blurred the lines between animals and humans.
I was never clear about why they found it offensive, exactly. They weren't abusive, and had every right to control their kid's reading material, but they never let the kids stay with us after that. I always felt bad about it.
I myself have experienced most of the things listed in my question above and was just curious if any others in this group had had similar experiences. (The worst was the book burning. That one scared the daylights out of me.)
I grew up in a fairly conservative (very close minded) area and found myself under scrutiny as a youth more times than I can remember. I’m not trying to sound like some kind of rebel, because it really wasn’t that way at all. Most of the times it happened I had said something that I didn’t think anything about at all and the next thing I knew I was feeling more than just uncomfortable. It’s very unnerving to say something that you assume that others will share your perspective on and then find that not only don’t they share your feelings or ideas, but that they actually think you have no right to your beliefs or thoughts. Just like in nohrt4me’s story about her niece, I found myself facing negative repercussions because of something innocently done.
“Censorship is never over for those who have experienced it. It is a brand on the imagination that affects the individual who has suffered it, forever.”
That statement is unbelievably true. There’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about one of the many times I found myself faced with this ugly beast… and here’s the catch. Any censorship (aside from the book burning) I have experienced was so mild that in many ways it would be easy to blow it off if it hadn’t happened so many times and been implemented many of those times by people who had power over me, but think about people who face full blown censorship. In Russia these days it seems you can read whatever you like, but if you speak out against the government, you may find yourself thrown from a very high place. Even that is mild compared to the handful of places around the world where whole groups (nationality/religion/ethnicity) of people are being murdered for not being like their next door neighbor.
Sorry, I seem to have rambled a bit more than I intended.
I am often faced with people telling me right now that I shouldn't be reading things that are on my bookshelf. The Witches Bible or any of the pagan books on my shelf, if honest. The alternative lifestyle books and even some of the books dealing with the holocaust, politics and similar. I find it strange that people feel threatened by someone taking an active part in learning about the world we live in and the atrocities and complications within.
I understand people's reaction to my pagan books (though these same people rarely seem to look far enough on my shelf to see that I also have books on Judaism, Buddhism and even christian oriented books like The Purpose Driven Life among others. I just happen to be very diverse when it comes to religion and have not yet found anything that covers my beliefs.
I can understand the reaction to the alternative lifestyle books too since many people feel that being a submissive or slave, works against women's rights. What I find shocking then, is that I am expected to respect those people's choices to act on their rights, but they cannot respect my choice not to. it all comes down to personal preference and beliefs. People are not carbon copies (thankfully!). my tastes are different, thats all there is to it. Sadly not everyone feels the same.
I let someone give a baby shower in my home and one of the guests complained about some of the books on my shelves. The books dealt with Fairies, Witches, Gnomes, and Giants.
Also, my daughter was reading a book on the school book list and I had to write a note to the teacher saying that I knew she was reading the book and that it was my book! I don't remember the name of the book - but it was on the list the school gave out for reading material! I just couldn't believe the teacher would have asked that question!
There is a "situation" in a nearby country where a group of parents are trying to get several books--The Bluest Eye, Native Son, Slaughter House Five and some others off the shelves.
The parents' group is arguing that these books break Michigan law banning giving sexually explicit materials to minors.
While there is explicitly sexual info in the books, the law is also pretty clear that the materials must cause "harm," which means the books must be written for the primary purpose of sexual stimulation.
The way this usually plays out is that the prosecutor declines to take the case.
Some of these parent groups know that, but they get press coverage for making a lot of noise about smut. And it's a subtle form of censorship "terror." Schools and, sometimes, public libraries, where these groups are very vocal, will quietly stop stocking "controversial" books in order to keep the smut people off their necks.
Sometimes these book challenges are times around millages for libraries and schools, which gives the library and school bad press (in the view of some) and can affect the $$ vote.
These people have very sophisticated tactics. Libraries and school districts need to realize it and learn to fight back.
Anyway, my mother never told me about any of this until I was in college, so it didn't get a chance to scar, me, but certain teachers that I always looked back fondly on plummeted in my esteem.
It was when the vice principal attacked an OpEd I wrote in my high school newspaper about our open campus policy and said that "student opinions contrary to the districts have no place in the newspaper" that I resigned from the paper in disgust.
But the levels of parental censorship I see in the library astound me. To be fair, they aren't trying to take books of the shelves, but when I'm trying to do reader's advisory and am faced with a long list of demands of things the books can't have in them, it makes it difficult.
When my oldest son was in 3rd grade, he read my (complete, unabridged) copy of War of the Worlds. His teacher called me about it, not to chastize me and my first wife, but to comment about how much he was really enjoying it. She had been teaching elementary school for twenty-odd years and had only seen a few 5th graders ever attempt the 'full' version. She admitted to having concerns because of minorly graphic descriptions of death and destruction, but wasn't about to stop him from reading it. We appreciated the call.
I used to live in NJ and worked in NYC for 10 years. I absolutely loved that situation because the commute gave me 2 hours a day when I could read. At one point, I had purchased a copy of The More Than Complete Hitchhiker's Guide. It's a black leather-bound (probably not real leather, I suppose), gilded edges, one and a half inch thick, feels great just to hold iit n your hand book with expensive-looking (yet very silly) endpapers, and an attached bookmark . I had finished the first leg of my commute, and was waiting for the trolly car to arrive. There I was, totally engrossed in, and completely groking the explanation of the Total Perspective Vortex, and entirely not noticing the well-meaning, smiling, somewhat elderly woman who approached me from my right side. She could only see the back of the book, which gave no clue as to what was inside, and apparently mistook it for a bible. She touched me on the arm to get my attention, and asked, "Do you know the Lord?" As I put the bookmark in its place and closed the book to show her the cover, I avowed, "Yes ma'am, I surely do. And more importantly, I know where my towel is!" Once she got over the initial shock, she gave me the hairy eyeball, and did this sort of crab-walk sidestep shuffle thing while she made the sign of the cross about a half-dozen times and muttered some incantation. Fortunately, the trolly showed up not too long after that.
I think if we approach the book censors with that kind of good humor, it helps.
Usually they're prepared for resistance, but if you respond something like, "Thanks for worrying about the kids in our community. Let's help you understand how the library develops its collection, and here's a form for you to complete so that we make sure we have the books you WANT your kids to read here."
Bringing them into the process makes them far less likely to squawk about how their rights and values are being stomped on.
The explanation of the towel is covered in one of the first few chapters of the first book. In brief, if you're hitchiking about the universe, you're more likely to get a ride if you show them that you are somewhat neat and organized. In fact, they'll most likely ~give~ you things, like a toothbrush. I believe there's also a list of things that a towel is extremely useful for, other than merely drying one's self off -- catching a Babblefish, if I recall correctly. I've currently got that book loaned out to one of my 2 older sons.
my perspective is that when parents ask their child not to read something or even demand that their child not read something, that is parenting. Parents should guide the children and have every right to do so. It's only when parents try to decide for everyone by asking/demanding that books be removed from school or public libraries (or even restricted) or removed from classrooms and other similar types of actions that I think they have crossed the line into censorship.
It doesn't sound as though you took your mom's advice as censorship but I just thought I'd throw that in there.
I loathe and despise the "Left Behind" series, but would let my son read it when he was 13 or 14--when he's old enough to understand that the book is based on religious doctrine I don't believe in and why I therefore find the books objectionable.
I think I would be justified in banning them from the house altogether as morally offensive. But sometimes that just makes things seem more alluring.
And he needs to know that that thinking exists.
Once he's 18, I will have done what I can to form his moral and aesthetic sense, and then he's on his own. Though I hope we will always continue to talk about books!
There were other people, though, who thought it was their business to butt into my life.
When I was 10-11, at a day-care, one of the female "workers" "taking care" of us decided to steal a book that I had gotten from the library. She flipped through it quickly, attached her eyes on a piece of text, and decided it wasn't appropriate. (I use the terms "workers" and "taking care" loosely, by the way, as the girl was a college student who thought she was perfect, but didn't really do much at all.)
And then there was an employee at a BOOKSTORE, of all places, who lied about ordering a book for me because she didn't think it was appropriate, either. When I didn't get the call to pick up my book, I called the store; I ended up having to order it from someone else at there. Years later I saw the same woman working at another bookstore in the same chain, and she gave me bad looks when I asked for another book she thought unappropriate (and I was probably over 18 then, too). She was a nice person, otherwise, but her looks were just so annoying.
Wow, now that's crazy. Can't believe the bookstore employee lied about ordering the book! That's pretty bad. How did that person think it was any of her business what kind of books you read.
But I don't really count that as censorship because I probably wouldn't have been mature enough to handle some of Stephen King's novels, and the whole idea of "what Grandma doesn't know won't hurt her" only affected what books I could bring over to her house and what books had to be hidden if she happened to be over at our house. Other than that, my parents just kind of threw up their hands and said, "Read what you want."
I don't believe that when a parent restricts what his or her chid reads one can call it censorship. It's parenting. Parents have every right to make judgment calls on what their children are ready for and what they are not. It only becomes censorship when a parent of one child tries to decide what's appropriate for all children.
Certainly I may not agree with what some parents choose to restrict, but I defend their right to make decisions on how to raise their own children. My parents hardly ever restricted what I read, but there were a few times where they politely and strongly told me they would prefer I wait until I was older to read something. (This happened maybe once or twince in my entire childhood. Once I was a teen they never asked or commented about my reading choices.)
I've always respected their decisions on what I could and couldn't read. It's the only thing I could really think of that sort of applied to the topic of censorship, and like I said in my previous post, I never really considered that to be censorship. The same applies to other parents as well...I may not agree with their decisions, but as long as they don't affect me, I don't really care.
My parents were the same way...there were only a few books that they didn't want me to read as a kid, and they just told me that they wanted me to wait until I was older, which was perfectly fine with me. There were plenty of other books to read in the meantime.
My brother and I were both huge sports fans growing up. He borrowed Life on the Run by Bill Bradley from the local public library. Most of it is completely unobjectionable accounts of his college and basketball days, but there is a very short passage in which he and some other players spend an evening with some, uh, ladies of ill repute. He's very discreet about it; there's nothing anyone could call lewd. But my brother refused to let me read the book after he finished it, because he said it "wasn't appropriate."
The thing is, I'm two years older!!!
So, of course, when he returned it to the library I went with him. He handed the book to a librarian and I was right behind him on line to say, "I'd like to borrow that book." She gave it to me.
One of my mother's overbearing friends tried to censor what I was reading, but failed, since I wasn't her daughter and didn't live in her house.
This was annoying on many levels as a high-schooler. First, watching 10 people everyday for 2 weeks come in for attendance and then leave for their own private study hall in the library was annoying. Secondly, those of us still in the class were still graded on the material - those kids got A's for nothing just so they wouldn't be exposed to the evils of evolution.
It was just sad that the entire district caved as we were a public school and there were more than enough fundy schools to go around.
As a regular church-goer, I often wonder how some of my co-religionists justify treating real life (which includes the books one reads in real life) like some kind of poisonous snake. How do kids learn to spot and stand up to things that their faith teaches them is wrong when they are so protected from the world?
I was upset when I walked back to my grandmother's house. When I told her what happened, she walked back to the library with me and had a little chat with the librarian. It was enough to put me off libraries though. I have probably checked out no more than 5 or 6 books in the past 20 years, and those were typically for work (I am an English professor). I'm not necessarily saying it was this particular incident which caused me to boycott libraries, but it may have subconsciously had something to do with it.
I agree that parents have the right to 'vet' the books their children read because they know what their own child can handle. But from my own experience, I picked up Stephen King's Carrie, didn't understand a word of it and put it back down again with no damage done to me. A couple of years later I picked it back up again, read every word and understood most of them and finished it, again with no damage done.
By leaving me to it the first time my parents knew that I would loose interest fairly quickly because it was too advanced for me and that I would either leave it or read it when I was older, but they didn't cause a fuss that made the book more attractive to me.
I think that's the approach I will take if I ever have a child. I have so many books that any child of mine would be bound to try to read an 'unsuitable' one sooner or later. I would hope that we would be in the habit of discussing books with each other though and I would be able to guide them through any book they persevered with.
On the other side, when I worked in a book store, a teacher came in to order copies of "Midsummer Night's Dream" for her Jr. High English class. I made some joke about it being Shakespeare's dirtiest play, and she laughed and said her favorite part was having the students perform Pyramus and Thisby for their parents. Who almost universally thought it was all very pure and uplifting because it was Shakespeare, and completely ignored all the naughty bits.
Two or three years later I bought my own copy and managed (barely) to read it.
It was a comic book.
It had swearing.
Did I mention I was 18? And about to go on a two-week, unchaperoned trip to Japan?
I held my tongue until after I got back, and then just let her have it, because she had never censored my reading, my film-watching, my music, anything before. I had seen movies with her that had used the exact same words (I think it was the "motherfucker" that did it for her). I'm still kind of angry, even though she admitted she had been wrong.
Has anyone else had a out-of-left-field experience like this?
My guess is that there was something about the comic, your own behavior--or maybe just parental jitters about your going abroad by yourself--that made her wonder if she'd been too lenient all those years and decided to crack down out of nowhere.
Forgive her. You'll need your own kids to forgive you for stupid stuff you do someday. Trust me.
I grew up in a town of ~500 people, and attended a grade school where classes doubled up 1&2, 3&4, 5&6. My first/second grade teacher had actually taught both of my parents! The school had no enrichment or AP programs, and the teachers were beside themselves dealing with a kid who was a voracious reader by age 5. In odd numbered grades, the teacher could let me sit in with the higher grade, but that just made the second year much, much worse. I skipped second grade, and they wanted me to skip fourth, but fortunately my parents refused. My emotional maturity lagged way behind my academic ability.
We had no public library within 20 miles, but the school district offered a book buying service. Catalogs would come around periodically, and you could order inexpensive paperbacks. The titles were listed by grade level, but I ignored that – reading books above my grade level provided some relief to the mind-numbing tedium. Sometimes the teachers would actually let me read my recreational books in school, to keep me occupied.
Somewhere around 4th grade, I spotted The Lost World in the high school list Wealthy neighbors used to let me read in their home library, and I had already read all of Sherlock Holmes, so I was thrilled to find something new by Conan Doyle. I was furious when the teacher told me I couldn’t order “that trash”, especially when I was using my own money, which I had saved up from weed pulling or other tedious work. I complained to my Mom, and she sent a note to school. I absolutely loved that book, and read it until it fell apart!
Another time: My piano teacher held occasional “recitals”, in which all of her students would show up at the same time, and each would play a piece for the group, after which we would all have cake and ice cream. In the room were we sat during the recital, the fireplace was flanked with full-height bookcases. These books were special – all hardcover, with many fine bindings, matched sets, etc. On one occasion, when I was about 12 or 13, I spotted a new book and carefully took it off the shelf. Mrs. Nelson had always encouraged my reading, and had even loaned me a few books, so it didn’t occur to me that this was out of line in any way.
The cover was white leather, with the title and some decorative elements embossed in gold. Inside, the pages were heavy and glossy, with gold edges. The text was in two columns – Latin on the left, and English on the right. I recognized some of the Latin words from Mass, and it seemed to be some kind of a poem. The margins were wide, with red annotations. Best of all, the book had quite a few illustrations – copies of paintings, possibly Rubens. I suppose this was probably a copy of an historic edition.
This book was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen, and I was so busy hyperventilating over it that I didn’t notice that one student had finished, and Mrs. Nelson had called me to play next. When I didn’t appear, she came out and saw me looking at one of the illustrations.
She must have thought I was interested in the pictures of naked people, as opposed to the overall wonderfulness of the book itself. She snatched that book out of my hand, slammed it back into the shelf, and screamed that I was never to touch that book again! Turns out it was Dante. Of course, at age 12-13, I had no clue what I was reading, but why make such a scene?
Thank you so much for your insight. No, I do not have teenagers yet-- the incident referred to was only three years ago. But now that you've said that, it makes such perfect sense that I feel ashamed that I didn't already know that. That's one less chip on my shoulder that should have been brushed off long ago. Thank you very much.
will return when red fog leaves brain.
Don't even get me started on the Comedy and her reaction!
However, I experienced great prejudice because of the things I read while reading them in public. Everything from Maus I (which i read in middle school) to King (of whom, I was told, reading would cause my sanity to burst). Oh, and never bring a D&D book into your Mormon Stepmother's house ;-)
My closest brush with censorship was when I mailed a graphic novel to a friend of mine and it was seized and destroyed by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise for being "possibly indecent or obscene".
I secretly hope it wasn't actually destroyed, and went into someone's private library.
Well, during this time in my life, my father decided to marry a woman who was part of the Church of Mormon. They were married to each other for about a year before things just fell apart... She tried to impose a lot of restriction on him, one being that he had to quit drinking coffee... That was the straw & camel's back.
Anyway, this was during a period of my life when I was getting into horror books. I was also trying my hand at D&D (and failed miserably because everyone played by their own rules at that age...so, I soon quit any sort of D&D ambitions I might have had). One day I brought to my stepmother's house one of the new D&D books I just bought. Oh, I was very happy with it; plus it had a beautiful painting of a dragon on the cover that I loved. I showed it to her in anticipation of showing her what an "awesome" picture it was. Oh, she freaked! "Dungeons and Dragons!!!! That is what Satanists do!!!" I was bewildered... I was trying to innocently connect with my new stepmother as her new stepson and I was accused of bringing something evil into the house.
My father talked to me later on and told me to keep the book at my mom's house...and not to bring anything else associated with D&D or any other horror books because we did not want to freak out my stepmother.
There you have it.
My mom has always been very pragmatic with my reading habits-if I could reach it on the shelf and I understood enough of the vocabulary to get to the juicy parts, I was allowed to read anything-V.C.Andrews in the 9th grade, Stephen King in the 7th, etc. My highschool was not nearly so progressive. I was reading a book on Wicca in the 10th grade and was told not to bring the book to school again. I told my mom about this, confused about what rule I could possibly be breaking (being the goody-goody I was in highschool), and she flipped, chewed out the school on the policy, and got that teacher in hot water. I was never challenged on my reading materials again.
On the flip side, I have several books I won't let my mother read-I majored in forensic science as an undergrad and had a bunch of really gory pathology and criminalistics textbooks with images of butchered bodies. She is still not allowed to see those books. She has a weak stomach for visuals and doesn't ever want to know that her baby girl saw those things for a living. Those same books are what I now call "High Shelf books"-books that are kept on the very top of my bookshelf so they aren't in reach of my son-along with anything with non-age appropriate material. At a certain point in time, some of the books can just be tucked away-I don't think any kid wants to think about his mom ever reading The story of O-no matter how long ago it was. LOL
Now as a librarian, I haven't (so far-knock on wood) encountered any challenges or bans, but that's because I'm in an academic library. I got to order And Tango Makes Three and Ordinary Child, Magical Girl and no one complains. But I'm also active in my son's PTA-just in case anyone gets a notion to try to ban or challenge a book in his school.
I finally read it in my 20s and, with respect to censorship, was disappointed. I wasn't even sure what was objectionable. A young girl becomes pregnant in the story, but if I remember correctly it's not the doings of the protagonist, and occurs only in the background.
I was always a reader, and I can't imagine my parents telling me I "was not allowed" to read something. My brother and I were always fairly mature, but as soon as it had been forbidden, we would have torn the house apart to see what we "weren't allowed to see!"
Besides, most kids have heard worse things on the bus in the mornings and afternoons than anything they could find in the school library. I know I did.
Censorship, to me, is just the ignorance of others leeching out toward those with more open minds. I'm not usually obnoxious about things, but giving everyone the opportunity to read - and further themselves in the process - is something I'm pretty passionate about.
I ripped off a copy of Howl:and Other Poems from a bookstore in the late 50's. My girl-friend's mother heard me reading it to her and told her I was crazy, and to stop seeing me. 30 years later, I still felt guilty about asking Allen Ginsberg if he minded autographing it, but he laughed and cheerfully signed it.
My daughter, now 22, was allowed to read anything she chose. Books husband or I had issues with were discussed, usually at the dinner table. Several times, she was asked by a teacher if her parents knew she was reading "that book", but thankfully, they never tried to stop her.
Hell no, I started hanging around with other young wanttabe beat -niks (they called us “hippy-dips”) in Chicago's Hyde Park. The girls I met there were crazier than I ever was. It was great preparation for the 60's.
P.S. How do you Touchstone?
Every religion has its crazies. I'm a proud Mormon and have no problem with books about witches, hobgoblins, etc. Neither do most people I know at church. As a matter of fact, I have known quite a few Mormons who absolutely adore Harry Potter... and the Twilight series was written by a Mormon, so there you go.
I cringe when I hear stories like this, because I don't like that others might get the wrong impression about a faith because of one crazy person. :)
There was another book called Exilio na Iha Grande (Exile in Ilha Grande) about (I think) a guy that is arrested during the dictatorship in Brazil. This one my unlces did not permitted me to set eyes on do to the violence and literally vanished with the book.
My husband and I never actually censored what our daughter read - although when she read Flowers in the Attic and one other V. C. Andrews book - I did advise her that her dad would have a problem with those, so to make sure that he never saw her reading them. :) He never found out! She was reading adult horror books by the time she was twelve years old, and truly has never had a single nightmare! She is now in her thirties and is choosing books for me to read. :)
There was never any problem with schools or libraries censoring what Mareena read, although for some reason my husband's and my adult friends would continually take it upon themselves to comment (privately, of course) to my husband or myself that Mareena "shouldn't spend so much time with her nose in a book"! :(
(Confession: The student "disturbed" by the book attended my alma mater, which gives me some perverse thrill.)
I work in a public high school library and a parent recently called because her (darling) daughter took a picture of a book we had and sent it to her. It was an author the mother reads regularly so the daughter knew that there were inappropriate scenes in it. I took the call and after discussing it for a while, handed it off to the librarian who has degrees and credentials and is paid much more than me to deal with her.