Alyssa B. Sheinmel
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Alyssa's News & Notes: Banned Books Week is Here! September 25 - October 2, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Banned Books Week is Here! September 25 - October 2, 2010

I have been lucky enough to receive wonderful emails and messages from people who have read The Beautiful Between. I’m honored anytime someone has taken the time to read the book, and even more so when they then take the time to tell me what they thought about it – whatever their feelings on the novel might have been.

A few months ago, however, I received a note that really threw me for a loop. A reader didn’t approve of some of the language used in the book, and wrote that this was not a book that she could, in good conscience, recommend teens read. She suggested that I was unaware that plenty of teens don’t talk like that, and that I might have used my book as an opportunity to show teens that they can communicate without any “bad” language.

I was, at first, somewhat apologetic, and wrote her an email explaining that it was never my intention to offend anyone with the language in the book; that I had been trying to simply tell an honest story, and that while I understood that many teens didn’t use some of the words that Jeremy and Connelly use in The Beautiful Between, this happened to be the way that these people spoke. I said that I hadn’t been writing my book to teach anyone anything; I was just telling a story.

I never received a response to my email, and I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It wasn’t until a few days later that the message I’d received really sunk in: this was someone suggesting that I censor my work; suggesting that my novel was unsuitable for teens because the characters in it happened to say the f-word a few times in the novel. (Personally, I found it a bit absurd that this reader had a problem with the language but didn’t seem to mind that the main characters spend most of the novel with cigarettes in their mouths. And, after I received this email, I did a word search to see just how many times my characters used that particular word: 9. And boy is this reader in for a rude awakening should she read my second novel; number of f-bombs in The Lucky Kind: 19).

Now, I’m not suggesting that someone telling me to alter the language in my story is nearly the level of censorship that Banned Books Week is really about. And my reader is certainly more than entitled to her opinion, and more than entitled to choose what books she recommends to the children and teens in her life.

But simply the idea that a story that happens to contain a few “bad” words is somehow dangerous is exactly what Banned Books Week is about. I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on – and occasionally these books had sex, they had magic, they had pretty strong language. My father, more than anyone else in my life, encouraged me to read anything and everything, and he never suggested that I not read something because of the content.

And my father, more than anyone else in my life, hates when anyone – especially if that anyone is me – uses “bad” words. So today, in my own life, I actually rarely use them; I’ve been too shy to even use them in this blog post. (Do you know anyone who actually still refers to the “f-word” as such?) Sure, I was exposed to them in any number of ways, but I rarely use them because my dad doesn’t like when I do, and I don’t like to upset my dad. Clearly, whatever exposure I received to “bad” language didn’t make any difference – it was up to me to decide how I was going to talk, and had little to do with what I read, or listened to, or watched.

So I suppose the point of what has become my longest ever blog post is this: censorship is just really very stupid.

It’s a lot of other things, too, and, unfortunately, it persists. Celebrate the freedom to read and learn more at Random House’s First Amendment website: http://www.randomhouse.com/banned/.

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