Monday, September 25, 2017

Banned Books Week: Some Further Thoughts

This post espouses the concept of limited book banning -- for children and young teens ONLY -- on the basis of avoiding any emotional damage that 
may be caused by their reading of certain books.
This post DOES NOT advocate book banning for ADULTS. Nevertheless, if you believe
you might feel offended by the views expressed here, you are warned NOT to continue reading. 
If you wish to leave an opposing comment, 
please remain civil.
Thank you.

Banned Books Week began yesterday, Sept. 24th, and will run until Saturday, Sept. 30th. In view of this, I am publishing this post, which is actually a continuation of a post I published last week, on the same topic.

Last Friday, Sept. 22nd, I participated -- as I do every Friday -- in the Book Blogger Hop, which is hosted by Billy @ Ramblings of a Coffee-Addicted Writer. This hop has been ongoing for several years now. Each week, participants answer a question regarding a bookish topic. For more information, see the link at the bottom of this post.

This past Friday, the question submitted, by Kristin @ Lukten av Trykksverte, was "In regards to Banned Books Week, what are your favorite books that have been banned or challenged?" See the link list at the bottom of this post in order to refer to my answer to this question.

In addition to posting my favorite challenged/banned books, I included some thoughts on book banning itself. What I stated in that post was that I DID believe there should be banning of certain books in school libraries, especially at the elementary and middle school level, although I didn't specify that in my post. However, I did state that I believe children and younger teens should not have access to certain books in their school libraries.

The idea of book banning raises the hackles of all those who passionately support free speech, and this is as it should be. Free speech is, after all, a hallmark of all democratic societies. So then banning of ANY type of information, for ANY age group, seems to go against this basic right. But does it really? I would like to take a closer look. In order to do this, I would like to present a concept that I also discussed in a previous BBH post: the concept of TOXIC books.

This might be a topic not much commented on in the bookish world, as I have come across only one article, from which I've quoted below, that vaguely refers to it. 

I am not, of course, referring to physical toxicity, such as lead poisoning. I'm referring to PSYCHOLOGICAL toxicity, in which the reading of certain books might cause negative psychological effects, such as recurring nightmares and irrational phobias. I really need to do more research on this. At this point, I can only point to my own experience with a book that I believe to be HIGHLY toxic, in the psychological sense: The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. I read this novel in my early twenties, and was very adversely affected by it. I had nightmares, and could not sleep well for two weeks after reading this book. Needless to say, I should have NEVER read it..... Of course, after THAT experience, I was not at all interested in seeing the movie. Reading the book was bad enough!

Now, if this book affected me as strongly as it did, and I read it as an ADULT, it should be obvious that, if a child of say, 10 to 12 were to read it, or a teen of about 13 to 15, said child or teen would be affected much more strongly than I was. 

The fact of the matter is, this novel is SO terrifying, it can actually leave permanent psychological scars on whoever reads it. But again, the effects would be much worse on a young mind. 

In an online article titled, "On The Dangers of Reading" (see the link below), by Dr. Keren Dali, of the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, Western University, Ontario, Canada, the author discusses some of the possible negative effects to be encountered by ADULTS in reading certain fiction works. 

Here's a relevant quote from this article:

"Do you remember how good you felt until you read that book about a cheating spouse? Before that, you didn't worry about the faithfulness of yours. You also did not obsess over rare diseases, traffic accidents, bacteria-laced foods bringing on an epidemic, cunning identity theft, or an internet predator lunging at an opportunity to con you out of your life savings. The list goes on. Books deliver ideas vividly, viscerally: readers hear the criminals plot inside their minds, feel the destructive viruses penetrating a human body, and agonize over the betrayal of those whom we love and trust. And this is how reading an enthralling well-written book can result in a nagging worry or fear."

Bear in mind that Dr. Dali is here referring to negative psychological effects on ADULTS. In his article, he also refers to "vulnerable readers". These are readers who are already suffering from some psychological problem, which is then exacerbated through the reading of a specific book or books. There's also the case of readers who are very sensitive, and thus, should not be reading certain books. Again, he is referring to adults. Even vulnerable adult readers, though, are able to take rational steps to counteract the negative effects experienced through the reading of certain books. Children are not well- equipped to do this, and the reason is quite obvious: they simply do not have the necessary emotional/psychological maturity to do so. Nor do they possess the necessary intellectual maturity, either.

The reading of certain books can therefore be DANGEROUS to children and young teens. Should a twelve-year-old be allowed to read The Exorcist? You might say that this is a ridiculous example, as a child that age will probably not have the necessary vocabulary to understand this novel. But how about a GIFTED twelve-year-old, reading above their grade level? What about a fifteen-year-old? Would that be advisable in either case, considering the probable damaging emotional effects of reading this book? In the face of this probability, is it really worth it to insist on NO book banning AT ALL, under ANY circumstances? I really don't think so. A child's psychological health is much more important than the untrammeled defense of the right to free speech.

Advocates of NO book banning AT ALL protest that other parents have no right to limit their right to decide what their children should or shouldn't read. But this is the point that's frequently forgotten: those parents who insist that no books be banned at their children's school libraries are thereby infringing on the rights of the parents that do NOT want their children to have access to these books. 

It's not always the case that a child or young teen will check out a forbidden book. Sometimes they will just sit down with it right there, at the school library, and start skimming through it. If this book were not available in the school library, they would never come across it, and thus, would be unable to look through it. Since most parents are at work while their children are at school, they have no control on when their children visit the school library, or what books they might encounter there.

Public libraries do not regularly ban books. They certainly do receive requests, mostly from parents, to not have certain books on their shelves. Librarians who work at these libraries, however, are under no constraints to honor these requests, whereas those who work in school libraries have a responsibility to the families of their students.

Here are some relevant quotes from the online article, "How Book Banning Works", by Cristen Conger, who writes for the blog HowStuffWorks, and is a contributing writer for Discovery News. She has also published articles for Huffington Post, ABC Science, and 

"In fact, a majority of book banning cases relate to works found in school libraries rather than in public ones."

This quote refers ONLY to PUBLIC libraries:

"Only a minority of the requests actually make it through to banning the book from its respective library.

When filling their shelves, librarians do not judge the content of books on whether it would be suitable for all audiences. As public institutions, libraries may not discriminate on disseminating information on the basis of age, sex or race, which means that people can check out whatever materials they choose. That said, libraries request that parents and guardians of minors monitor their selections."

In light of the above, I would say that those parents who want their children to read ANY kind of book out there, and who are concerned about other parents taking away this right through the banning of potentially damaging books at their children's school, should simply take their children to their local public library. The chances of finding objectionable books there are much higher than they would be at a school library. 

At this point, I'd like to state that the American Library Association does not ban books. The Public Library Association, which is a division of the ALA, is in charge of all U.S. public libraries. Conger states in one of the quotes above, that "only a minority of the requests make it through to banning". She may have gotten inadequate information from her sources, though, because the exact OPPOSITE is stated in the Q & A section of the Banned Books website..

At the risk of sounding boringly repetitious, I will again state that I am NOT advocating book banning for ADULTS. I firmly believe that adults are totally free to read whatever they want to, no matter how objectionable the content. Things are totally different where children and young teens are concerned.

I have much more research to do on this topic. So far, though, it should be abundantly clear that SOME book banning is justified; namely, in the case of younger readers who may actually be harmed through the reading of certain books.

Resource Links
(A Night's Dream of Books)
What do you think of this topic?
Please leave a comment below.
If you disagree with the views expressed here, 
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 in your comment.
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  1. Fascinating post Maria. You raise such insightful points. Many of these issues I have never thought about.

    I am thinking about your points. I would be curious to see if reading some books might have caused distress in children on the past.

    Books that are disturbing for children, and Dr. Dali’s quotation, have made me think about something. Ironically, when I was younger I tended to be less disturbed by certain books. When I grew older, I began to understand the profound affect that violence or other types of trauma can have on people. For instance, I was much more disturbed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty – Four and by Frank Herbert’s The White Plague the second time that I read them. In both cases my second reading was when I was older and I was better understood the terrible things that occurred in those books. I also read a lot of first hand accounts from Nazi concentration camp survivors when I was young, they disturbed me at the time but I think that I might not be able to read them at all now. This is not an argument for against not allowing children to read certain books, just an observation.

    Have a great week!

    1. Hey, Brian!

      Thanks for the compliment! Much appreciated!! <3 :)

      In regards to certain books causing children distress in the past, I am currently doing some research on the topic. I have found one online article that refers to a clear correlation between the reading of violent comic books and aggressive behavior in children. The link to this article is included in a post I published today. The article is titled: "The Effects of Violent Literature on Children".

      Here's the link:

      The following quote from this article is very significant:

      "In one study, children read very violent comic book stories in which a child causes a negative event to happen to another child but the intent of the harmdoer is unclear. These children recommended more retaliation toward the harmdoer than children who read mildly violent stories, found a 2000 study published by Steven J. Kirsh and Paul V. Olczak in Media Psychology."

      Your observation on the increasing effect of disturbing literature on you as years have gone by is interesting. I have noticed this effect myself, with movies. But what has happened in my case is that I can no longer tolerate sad stories. This has been the case with books, as well. I don't think I would be able to re-read Steinbeck's "The Red Pony", or Rawlings's "The Yearling", for instance. These books have very sad endings for the animals involved. Ditto for Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles", which, as you know, depicts a very sad ending for the female protagonist.

      There are two things in books (as well as movies) that have ALWAYS caused me distress, though: the graphic depiction of violence (with all the blood and gore meticulously detailed), and the depiction of fear-inducing events.

      The first one is the reason I probably will never delve into the Game of Thrones series. I've heard it's VERY violent. The second is the reason I detest the horror genre. I had to read Poe in high school, and that was very unpleasant for me. I really don't think Poe should be taught in high school. He should be an optional author. Kids can learn about him in college, or on their own.



      I am at least thankful that I never had to read Lovecraft in high school! From what I know of his works, thanks to Wikipedia, they are absolutely too disturbing for someone like me, who scares easily! Lol.

      I am totally unable to read ANYTHING about the Holocaust. I tried to read "The Diary of Anne Frank" in high school, and could not finish it.

      I realize that I might have a problem..... Readers will have to deal with distressing and disturbing emotions pretty often. This is true even in the Harry Potter books. I cried and cried and CRIED when a certain beloved character in the series was killed..... and to date, I have not read the complete series. This happened in the middle of Book 6.

      However, the important question here is the effect of distressing, disturbing books on CHILDREN. I really wish I had not read “Cuentos Fant├ísticos“ ("Fantastic Tales"), by E.T.A. Hoffmann, when I did. You might remember this book from a BBH post at my other blog, "MindSpirit Book Journeys". I was only around 9 when I read this book, and some of the stories contained in it really disturbed me. I really do wish my parents had not bought me this book. But they did so thinking that these were regular fairy tales. I really do need to re-read this book, to see how I would feel about it now.

      Some kids can read way beyond their grade level, and so, might actually pick up a book meant for adults. I think this can have a very negative effect on such a child.

      I see the whole issue of book banning in less dire terms than the proponents of NO book banning. I see it in terms of what's AGE-APPROPRIATE for children. So, even kids who read way beyond their grade level will probably not have the emotional maturity to handle certain books.

      The idea of restricting books read by children is really a common sense issue for me. You cannot expect a child to run before they can walk, and this applies to reading, as well. As an adult, I'm sure I'd be better able to handle "Brave New World", for example, than a 15-year-old would. It will probably disturb me, but I don't think it would have as catastrophic an effect on me as it would on a 15-year-old. I'm referring to a 15-year-old reading beyond his/her grade level, although perhaps some kids who read at their grade level might be able to read this book.

      I think that the terms "book banning" and "censorship" set off alarm bells in the minds of progressive thinkers. We should use other terms. Because the issue is NOT banning books, PERIOD. The issue is RESTRICTING certain books so that they are not read by children and even young teens, because of their potential harmful effects. When these children and younger teens get older, they can certainly seek these books out on their own.

      Again, I heartily wish I had NOT had to read Poe in high school. I think that reading those stories when I did actually contributed to the mild depression I began to suffer from at that time, which continued into my college years.

      Hope you have a great week, too!! Thanks for always leaving such thought-provoking comments on "A Night's Dream of Books" and "MindSpirit Book Journeys"!! <3 :)

  2. I agree with you on many points =) !
    I believe books are dangerous and wonderful weapons. One book can change your mind or your way of seeing the world. Thus, banning some books may be wiseful in some cases. But... I'd still want my child to choose. The most important thing, I think, is to make them aware of the risks, to make them understand that they would just read ideas and that they have to judge by themselves those ideas and decide to adopt them or not, regardless of how well it's written. Warn them. And maybe listen to their final judgement and how they'd come to their decision (then, maybe, "rectify" what needs to be "rectified" : if their thoughts are non-logical or if there is a huge flaw and so on...).
    But I still don't understand why Harry Potter is on the list O_O

    1. Hi, Sandrine!

      So sorry for the late reply.... I had not seen this comment. :(

      Oh, I LOVE the way you put it: "I believe books are dangerous and wonderful weapons." Yes, they certainly are! Books can have a TREMENDOUS influence on a person's life. That's why I think it's VERY important for people to be VERY careful in choosing what books to read. In my case, I made a HUGE mistake when I read "The Exorcist". It affected me in a VERY bad way, for several weeks after I read it.

      As for children being able to choose, I just feel they would not know whether the book would be good for them to read or not. I think they would need adult guidance. Even if you explained the risks to them, they probably wouldn't understand.

      One example of books written "for children" is the "Goosebumps" series. I would NEVER want any child of mine to read ANY horror novels or comics! I don't understand why these books are marketed for kids. I think the horror genre is much too hard for a child to take!

      As for the Harry Potter series, some Christian groups think the books promote witchcraft, which is ridiculous. What I do think is that the later books might be a bit too dark for young children to read. Older kids can handle them, though.

      Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)


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