Friday, September 26, 2014

The Book Lover's Den #5: Banned Books Week -- My Thoughts

Welcome to my Friday feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

I will continue with this 
very important issue next Friday.

Governments and religions have for centuries sought to mold or control the character of their citizens and believers by prohibiting the free distribution of certain ideas, mostly those found in books.  The burning of the ancient library at Alexandria, although said to be an accident by some historians, is a prime example. There's also the Edict of Compiegne, the Index Librorum (the Catholic Church's former list of banned books, which was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966), and the condemnation of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses by Ayatollah Khomeini. Many more examples exist, not the least of which are the Nazi book burnings in the 20th century.

The First Amendment and Democratic Values

Banned Books Week is a very important affirmation of American democratic values. It was founded in 1982 by First Amendment and library activist Judith Krug, and is sponsored by the American Library Association, as well as several other organizations. It's held every year, during the last full week of September. During this week, there are special programs in colleges, universities, bookstores and libraries.

The whole concept of banning or challenging books -- some American journalists affirm that controversial books are not actually removed from circulation in the U.S. -- is completely antithetical to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free speech. Yet, groups of concerned individuals -- mostly parents with strong religious values -- do attempt to have specific books removed from their local school libraries every year.

Universal vs. Case-Specific Book Censorship

Although I am against book censorship, my opposition is specifically to the attempt by governments and religious institutions to implement and impose it on adults, on a mass basis. This means that I do favor book censorship on a limited basis -- by individuals, and in certain specific situations. One such situation is related to school libraries; I firmly believe that parents have every right to prevent their children from reading certain books they feel would be harmful to their children's intellectual and/or moral development.

I also believe that certain books, as well as magazines, should only be made available to the public on a limited basis. Books and magazines containing pornographic materials, for example, should be set aside in special sections of libraries and bookstores, accessible only by special permission. I might come under criticism for taking this stance, but it is a confirmed fact that pornography, whether in books or videos, frequently depicts women in very demeaning scenarios. Besides, such things as bondage and sadomasochism are highly controversial sexual acts. Only those people over 18 who are interested in such activities should have access to them, not the general public.

Amazon and The Pedophile's Guide: A Case 
of Justified Censorship

A recent example of justified book censorship comes to mind. It concerns the case of Amazon and its sale of The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure, back in 2010. This ebook was subsequently removed by the online retailer after a huge public outcry. I was among those who threatened to boycott Amazon. I would do so again, should they offer a similar book for sale in the future. Why do I state this? Well, the fact remains that pedophilia is a crime, punishable by law. Worse, it's a  crime against children. This book not only defends pedophiles, but offers 'tips' to help them better perpetrate their crimes, and avoid being caught! This is absolutely disgusting, and I am completely in favor of such a book not being sold anywhere in the United States, or in the world, for that matter.

Here is the author's own description of his book: "This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian (sic) rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals (sic), with hopes that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter (sic) sentences should they ever be caught."

It's very obvious that the author of this deplorable book, Philip R. Greaves (who seems to have trouble spelling even simple words), is dispensing advice to fellow perverts. Furthermore, he obviously thinks that there's nothing wrong with pedophilia, as long as certain 'rules' are followed! I'd like to know how a minor can possibly feel 'safe' in such a situation!

The Irony of Political Correctness 
vs. Justified Censorship

Those who might disagree with me regarding the protest against this book would do well to consider the irony of criticizing the Catholic Church for its coverup of their pedophile priests, while upholding the right of Greaves to offer his book for sale, and that of Amazon to include it in its stock of books for sale.

This issue becomes even clearer if we imagine Amazon selling a book titled The Terrorist's Guide: The Duty of Holy War and The Pleasure of Political Retribution (I have invented this title; there's no such book), with the stated purpose of defending terrorists, giving them 'tips' to help them carry out terrorist acts more effectively, as well as how to avoid capture by law enforcement agencies. Public reaction would be to swiftly condemn such a book, and prohibit its distribution.  Justifiably so.

It's not that I'm against the depiction of controversial themes in books. While I would prefer not to read such books myself, I would not oppose adults over 18 reading them, if so inclined. What I do oppose, however, is the glorification of themes that are actually crimes punishable by law, to the extent of presenting methods and techniques to put them into practice, and avoid criminal punishment in the process.

I am therefore in favor of book censorship, on a limited, case-by-case basis. As I stated above, I am not at all in favor of universal book censorship implemented by either a government or a religious institution.

As I was getting ready to wrap up this post, I decided to do some research on the Internet to see if I could find any support for my thoughts on the subject of censorship. I found it.

Censorship Isn't Really A Black-and-White Issue

Stephanie Orges is a copy and public relations writer for the largest ad agency in Fort Worth, Texas, and has won many awards. In her 2013 post, titled "5 Reasons Censorship Isn't Black and White" (posted on her blog, Be Kind, Rewrite), she makes some of the same points I do, in different words. For instance, she cites the difference between censoring within a school system, and across the country, with no exceptions allowed, which is basically what I was stating above. She also mentions the difference "between censoring ideas and censoring inappropriate content", something I also referred to above.

I also agree with Orges when she states that it's not always easy to discern when and to what extent something may be deemed inappropriate. However, there are ideas and activities that are considered criminal by every civilized society; such is the case with pedophilia and terrorism. The fact that these types of activities might very well be an accepted part of primitive societies is totally irrelevant to the argument at hand, simply because the concept of censorship, whether or not on a wide scale, is not even part of such societies, or, if it is, it's obviously not a matter for intellectual debate.

Summing up, I would say that the subject of book censorship is definitely not a black-and-white issue, but one that has to be closely examined to see whether it may at times be totally justified.

For Further Information

Banned Books Week


What do you think of my views?
Do you agree or disagree?
Please leave me a comment 
and let me know!


  1. Maria, this is such a well reasoned, well written and informative post.

    I think that you really explained the issue so well. I am against censorship. That is, the government censoring speech.

    However , I do believe that private concerns have the right to distribute or not whatever they want. That is not censorship in the legal sense. For instance, if I owned a bookstore I would not sell books I deemed to be racist or material that I deemed purely pornographic.

    I believe that Amazon has the same right. They have the right to sell or not to sell anything they want. With that said they are a big public company that I do business with. If they choose not to sell a book for reasons that I objected to, I would exercise my Freedom of speech protesting the decision, not their right to exercise that decision. If they made decisions that I found to be egregious in this regard, I might further exercise my freedom and stop doing business with them.

    Libraries ad schools get trickier but I think similar reasoning applies. I do not really want my library carrying materials that I deem to be outright pornography, that has no artistic value. Furthermore, these institutions must make decisions as to what they should and should not carry. I do think that they should err on the side of carrying almost anything that has artistic, social or political merit. Thus, I will usually, but not always, protest when a book is banned.

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thank you so much for the compliment!! I have definitely thought this through quite thoroughly, and firmly believe that this is not a black-and-white issue.

      I do believe, and very firmly, too, that government or religious censorship of books dealing with controversial materials, and read by adults, is tyranny. However, in the case of the book I mentioned, "The Pedophile's Guide", I do think the government should have stepped in. Why? Because pedophilia is a crime. That's why I also mentioned a fictional book of my own invention, titled "The Terrorist's Guide." Books defending and promoting illegal activities should absolutely be banned. If, however, an author expresses racist or mysoginistic views, with no illegal activity involved, then they should have the freedom to express themselves as they see fit. We who abhor such horrible views have the freedom to not read these books.

      I would definitely be in favor of the government banning ANY book that defended and promoted illegal activities. If, for instance, the KKK published a book on how to go about lynching African-Americans, and how to keep from being arrested and prosecuted for committing such a crime, I would say a ban would be entirely justified. So would a ban on a book dealing with effective ways of seducing and raping women without being caught.

      I personally don't read books in the erotica genre, because bondage, sadomasochism, and "threesomes" do not appeal to me, as I consider them to be perverted sexual acts. However, if people want to read this garbage, I have no problem with it, as long as they don't try to force others to participate unwillingly in these activities. Should any of these people ever publish a book on methods and techniques to successfully coerce other people into participating in these activities without their consent, as well as to avoid criminal prosecution in the process, well, then, I say that the government should definitely step in and ban such a book.

      In other words, controversial material PER SE should not be banned, as long as there's no criminal, illegal intent. In the case of "The Pedophile's Guide", there definitely WAS such an intent. There are other books on pedophilia being sold on Amazon, BUT they are studies of this phenomenon and not outright defenses of these perverted criminal activities. In contrast, the author of "The Pedophile's Guide" was actively defending and promoting the sick practice of pedophilia.

      Some people immediately started to protest others trying to get this book off Amazon's shelves, with cries of "Censorship! Censorship!" Ironically, these were probably the very same people who attacked the Catholic Church -- and rightfully so -- for its inexcusable coverup of all the pedophile priests! To me, this smacks of religious bigotry. These people didn't like the Church anyway, and were happy to have yet another excuse to criticize it. Well, I think that an illegal activity should be abhorred and condemned, no matter WHO defends it, promotes, or attempts to cover it up.

      As for libraries, I do think there's a big difference between school and public libraries. School libraries have a responsibility to the parents of the children that attend the school they are part of. Public libraries, on the the other hand, have no such restriction, and should be free to have ANY type of book on their shelves, with, however, a restricted section for pornography, so that minors do not venture in.

      Government restriction of controversial (not illegal or criminal) materials read by adults cannot, and should not, EVER be acceptable. This is indeed tyranny.

      Thanks for such a wonderful, thought-provoking comment!! It sure got me going!! Lol. : )


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