Booking Through Thursday: YA Censorship

btt  button Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme which poses a question or a thought for participants to discuss centering on the subject of books or reading.

I have not done one of these in over a year, though I do look at the questions every week. I have been pondering today’s question ever since looking at it earlier this morning, so I thought I’d jot some of those thoughts down here.

The question had to do with censorship of YA (young adult) literature: “Do you think it should vary depending on the impressionable age of the readers? Or is it always wrong? How about the difference between ‘official’ censorship by a government or a school system, as opposed to a parent saying No to a specific book for their child?”

It depends on what you mean by censorship. I would have a problem with the government banning certain books, except maybe pornography. (Has that kind of publication ever done anyone any good except to increase the finances of those involved in producing it?)  But one problem with banning books is that no one would be able to agree on what should be banned. After all, even the Bible has been banned in certain times and places. And I do have a problem with turning government officials into thought police.

I don’t think I would agree with public libraries banning certain books, but I would like them to keep “mature” books away from children’s and teen’s areas. Those who are concerned about what their children read should not be letting them loose unsupervised in a public library anyway.

I do think school libraries have a right and even a responsibility to keep certain books out. Books with filthy language or illicit sexuality do not need to be in a school setting. And of course, ultimate responsibility rests with parents, who do indeed have a right to filter their children’s reading material.

The BTT site linked to an YA author’s blog post wondering why some of her own books were censored (“quietly” rather than officially). I am not linking to the author’s post because of the vulgar language in it, but after perusing it I have to ask, “Seriously?” When she writes like that, how can she wonder why some parents and teachers would object?

I do think filthy language is a reason to restrict some books. There are some books where it is minor and can be overlooked (for instance, the Dickens book I am listening to uses “Damn,” and Unbroken has a smattering of objectionable language in it, but it is understandable that there would be such in a prisoner of war camp). Though I’d rather not read those words, I can understand their being included in some cases. But there are some words that really don’t need to be in YA lit, if anywhere. Yes, some people do use them in real life, but that doesn’t justify a plethora of vulgarity in the name of intellectual freedom.

I don’t think explicit sexuality needs to be a part of YA lit, either (or any fiction, for that matter). Yes, even the Bible talks about adultery and other kinds of sexual sin and how it affects people, but not in a way that would cause arousal on the part of the reader.

Violence is harder to set parameters around. Obviously a book about war is going to have violent scenes, a book that discusses bullying is going to show instances of it, etc. Reality is one thing; gratuitousness is another.

When my kids were younger, I did censor books with New Age and certain other philosophies. I believe in talking about such things, but I didn’t want them presented in a positive and favorable way to an impressionable young mind before we’d had a chance to talk about it.

There are a few reasons for setting some restrictions in reading. Generally I don’t want to read bad language or sexual scenes or put them before my children because of the garbage in/garbage out principle. If we fill our minds with such things, they’re going to become part of our thoughts and may even come back out in our words and actions. There is a phrase going around now that once you see something, you can’t unsee it. Often it is said humorously, but it is true principle both in viewing and reading.

Even though YA stands for young adults, YA books are usually marketed to teens, and these objectionable elements don’t need to be placed in young, impressionable minds.

Despite everything I have said, I do not mean that I wanted my kids only to read things that reinforced our own views and that we agreed with 100%. I am working on a post about reasons for reading, but one major one is to experience other viewpoints and test one’s own thoughts against those of others. However, I did want to be careful with how those thoughts were presented while they were still young.

Sometimes when a controversial book is making the rounds of discussion, some people (even Christians) will say exasperatedly, “It’s just a book.” But books are powerful things. What we read affects how we think. Jesus told stories to illustrate spiritual truth, and I have often said that the best of Christian fiction is like an extended parable or illustration of truth. A principle I have read in a story takes root and stays with me much longer than when I read it in an instructional format. But the same power than can be used for good can also be used for evil. I regret to say that off-color things I read in an unsaved home as a young person have also stayed with me much longer than I would have liked, often popping into mind at the most inopportune times, like while trying to pray or listen to a sermon.

Most of what I have said so far is applicable to anyone, but as a Christian, my guidelines come from verses like these:

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I Corinthians 6:12: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

I Corinthians 10:23: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

The Philippians passage focuses on the positive things we should be filling our minds with. The two verses from I Corinthians indicate that while all things are “lawful,” some things are not expedient (“tending to promote some proposed or desired object; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances” according to Dictionary.com), I shouldn’t allow things to exercise more power over me than they should, and some things are not edifying. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” and chapters 6-8 go on to describe the battle between and spiritual and fleshly natures. It is going to be even more of a battle if we’re feeding our fleshly natures. II Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

I don’t think that necessarily means we should read only Christian books. Truth and beauty can be illustrated even in secular works. And I don’t think it means everything we read should have a “Pollyanna” viewpoint. Even the Bible deals with sexuality, but not in a way that inspires lust. It also contains violent encounters, but David says in Psalm 11:5, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (emphasis mine) — gratuitous violence is different from a battle scene. It discusses different philosophies, but not in a way that leaves you confused about what’s right.

It is honestly hard to know exactly where to draw the lines sometimes, as I mentioned when I discussed To Kill a Mockingbird. There are books I might read for information that I would not endorse wholeheartedly. Wisdom and discernment are needed when reading Christian books as well as secular ones: not everything that calls itself Christian accurately reflects Biblical truth.

Of course, the world will not have the same standards in most instances, and we can’t fence off every area of temptation and evil influence. Ultimately what people need are hearts changed by the gospel. While we try to take some kind of stand lest explicit books become ever more blatant, we need to remember our main purpose as Christians is to share Christ both in our lifestyles and character as well as with our verbal testimony.

(Some of the above is taken from a previous post titled Book Banning and Censorship.)

Michelle at As4Me has some well-articulated thoughts on Censorship, Schools, and Children, Is Good Censorship an Oxymoron? and some other posts on censorship and banned books here.

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

F451Fahrenheit 451 is, as far as I can remember, the first book I have read by Ray Bradbury. It has the same feel as the old Twilight Zone series, but it was published a few years before.

The story takes place in a future version of America where most books are illegal. Fireman, instead of putting fires out, now start them by burning books and the houses of those caught with books. Society had lost its taste for deep thinking, preferring instead sporting events, fast driving, endless entertainment via earpieces they listen to and parlour walls that act as an expanded TV and directly involve the viewer. Concurrently, books were shortened, and then books that made people think fell out of favor and then were deemed upsetting to the peace and happiness of society, as different groups would protest what different books said, so they were banned. As a fire captain later explained, “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.” It is interesting, and scary, that what passes for tolerance today is this idea of making everyone equal and unobjectionable to each other rather than a willingness to let others have their differences.

Guy Montag is a fireman who likes his job, until he meets a different, free-spirited teen-age neighbor named Clarisse. Though I don’t think they ever talk about books specifically, her unconventional approach to life and way of thinking spark something in him, a questioning, a wondering if there is more to life. Several things fan this spark into flame: his vapid wife overdoses on sleeping pills and has to have her stomach pumped, but remembers nothing about it the next day; Clarisse and her family disappear; and a woman whose house Guy and his crew are supposed to torch chooses to die with her books. What can there be in books that someone would die for them? Guy has secretly taken a few of them and intends to find out. But he can’t make sense of them himself, so he goes to an old professor named Faber for help.

I’ll leave the plot there so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it. Though it was written during the McCarthy era, when there was an increased sensitivity to anyone having the remotest possibility of a tie to Communism, and Bradbury was concerned about censorship, he  “usually claimed that the real messages of Fahrenheit 451 were about the dangers of an illiterate society infatuated with mass media and the threat of minority and special interest groups to books,” according to Wikipedia. He has an interesting afterward that tells how he came to write the book and something of the history of it. He also tells of one publisher wanting to publish one of his stories in an anthology with 450 others, including some from Twain and Shakespeare, all shortened, seeming a fulfilling of his predictions in the book. The book itself has been banned at times in the past due to language (many “damns,” “hells,” and taking of the Lord’s name in vain), its mention of one woman’s abortion, and its depiction of firemen. There were valid reasons for the mention of abortion and the firemen. The language I could have done without. I am not shocked by it: my father spoke that way, and I know people do, but I don’t want to fill my brain with it, so I usually avoid books with much of it. I have mixed emotions about censorship. I don’t think I believe in it at the government level, but I have no problem with reserving certain books from student’s required reading. There are some books and magazines that are just pure filthiness and at least shouldn’t be right out there next to Good Housekeeping and such. I would have no problem with censoring those, personally, but then other people would have no problem censoring some books I like: some parents protest their children having to read anything religious. Thus we have the problem Bradbury depicted: if everything can be banned that anyone would have some objection to, we’re left with nothing. As Christians, the best way to deal with the situation, I think, is not to necessarily to seek to ban everything objectionable, though there are times to protest certain actions (like one library I heard of that had the “adult” section next to the children’s section, or a required book for a student that a parent objects to, or unnecessary foul language and sex scenes in books I review): rather, if we concentrate on doing what Jesus told us to do – share the gospel and make disciples – people’s hearts will be changed and they won’t want the bad stuff. That’s not the main reason to share the gospel, but it is one side effect.

The book has a great many more layers to it than there would appear to be at first glance. SparkNotes helped me catch some of that that I missed at first and caused me to appreciate Bradbury’s skill as a writer. The book is one of those classics I had heard of for years and always wanted to get to someday: I am glad that now I have.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)