BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Guest Post by Ceilidh of The Book Lantern: WIth Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Today we have Ceilidh from the YA blog, The Book Lantern. She caught my eye with a post she did on incendiary language, censorship and author responsibility. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted her to write a post for Banned Books Week. I asked and she graciously agreed.

A little info about Ceilidh. She's 20 and in her third year of Celtic/English lit studies at university in Edinburgh. She's a native Scot, obnoxious accent and all. :D She's been obsessed with reading for pretty much all her life and the Harry Potter books spurned her on to start writing her own stories. She'll read almost anything and has a love of YA as well as Shakespeare, gothic lit and LGBT theater. She's been reviewing YA since July 2010 when she started the Sparkle Project (another blog) and she's 22000 words into her YA novel. She also loves movies, politics and debating. She really, REALLY loves debating!

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It seems like such a cliché to use the oft quoted line from Spider Man but I struggle to think of a time when it isn’t relevant. It’s a piece of advice that could, and should, be applied to almost any situation and the subject of books is certainly not left out. With Banned Book Week in full force, it’s important to remember just why the literature we consume so feverishly is considered dangerous by some. 

I would argue that the written word is the most powerful weapon we have. It can literally change the world. It’s built up and brought down governments, it makes the world’s population smarter and more aware, it opens up a realm of infinite possibilities, and that’s terrifying to some. Ignorance is a pretty powerful weapon too. Keep the information away from the masses and they’re easier to control. Whether a book is burned or taken off the shelves, the impact remains the same. Nowadays, it seems as though the book banners of the world (or more specifically, the United States. As a Brit, I have never witnessed book banning in my own neck of the woods before and it is a pretty rare occurrence) have decided ignorance is bliss for its youth. According to the American Library Association, of the top 10 most banned or challenged books of 2010, 8 are children or young adult novels. Many deal with the simplest of issues such as growing up, others tackle more hard hitting issues like drugs and abuse, and the issue of homosexuality is pretty much a no-go area. Essentially, anything that moves away from the default mode of straight white god-fearing people who don’t have sex until they’re married is cause for concern. Forgive my snide time but it’s hard for me to sympathise with groups of people who declare LGBTQ content to be dangerous. If your way of life is threatened because of a children’s picture book about two male penguins who adopt a child together then you have bigger things to worry about! 

Let me emphasise this point before I continue: censorship is wrong. It’s a lazy way to avoid tough topics and it serves to make us all a little stupider. The cutting off of information to those who want and need it the most does nothing but harm us all. The world should treat books and the written word with the respect it deserves. However, the power that authors have to change the world must also be used in a sufficiently responsible manner.

A while back, I wrote a piece {this is the one I read that caught my eye - Bea} regarding comments made by author P.C. Cast, in which she defended her use of the word ‘retard’ by declaring it free speech. I found her response to be misguided and missing the point of the complaint left on her blog. I do not for one moment advocate removing the book from the shelves as the original commenter did, but I also do not agree that incendiary language can be used freely without consequence, especially in fiction aimed at an impressionable audience. Children are exposed to the power of literature from a very young age (although not all kids are so lucky – 1 in 3 kids under 12 in UK do not own a single book) and the impressions it can make on one so early on are undeniable. I’m a Celtic and English literature student who was influenced by my obsessive readings of Horrible Histories and Harry Potter as a kid. Young adult literature in particular has come under much scrutiny for its problematic content (I, and my Book Lantern co-bloggers, have been particularly critical of many aspects) and I think it’s important to call out such elements. Books are, like all forms of entertainment, a reflection of our own world and its values. When an ableist word is used so casually without condemnation, it’s allowed to grow and grow until it’s no longer something we notice. It becomes so engrained in our psyches as something that’s not a big deal, which makes things worse. I cannot fault every single person or author who uses such language, or gives misogyny a free pass by portraying it as true love, because even though it disgusts and depresses me, such behaviour has become so normal to us. It’s not just our books; it’s our TV, our films, our music, our video games, our politics, our sports, our comedy, our lives. It’s hard to shift from the default mode. But things are improving, even if it sometimes feels like they aren’t. LGBTQ rights and gay marriage are slowly but surely coming into the public sphere, feminism is in a new wave and ready to take back the ‘f’ word with such movements as the Slut Walks, and our entertainment has more diversity than we’ve seen in a long time. Still, more needs to be done. How can this be done?

To me, the answer is and always will be education. Change the status quo. Complain loudly about misogyny and bigotry in your lives and cultures. Fight those who try to take away the rights from minority groups with your words and your ballots. Get out there and demand the best education for all, even if you have to march the streets for it. Support diversity with your hearts and your wallets (because as depressing as it is, profits matter above all to many, including the publishing industry.) Fight for your libraries and the contents within. Don’t ever let the world make you stupid and use the written word in its strongest, most truthful form. 


  1. I won’t be able to thank you fully for the articles on your web-site. I know you’d put a lot of time and energy into all of them and hope you know how much I appreciate it. I hope I could do the same for someone else sometime.


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