Sunday, 3 October 2010

Last week was about book-banning

Now censorship and book-burning are two different things in the way that eggs and mayonnaise are two different things, so I make no apology for using an image of one to illustrate the other.

The week just finished was "banned books week." Rhiannon Lassiter blogged about it with many useful links
here.

And Lucy Coats wrote bravely and movingly about her own experience of assault here.
It really hit a nerve, as she got 44 comments and numerous private emails and DMs, not to mention over a thousand visits to the blog in a very short period of time.

Such blogposts were inspired by an American Professor's attack on the novel "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson, published in 1999. It is about the horrible subject of rape and a young woman's reaction to it. I haven't read the book but I will now. Professor Scroggins from Missouri thinks it's pornographic.

This led to widespread Twittering using the hashtags #speakloudly and #bannedbooksweek. In fact I read so many lists of books banned for so many reasons that my head began to reel. My friend Anne Rooney wrote an article in New Hunanist here. 

In it she writes about a children's book illustration of a female anthropomorphised mouse who was sitting with her hands in her (clothed) lap. It had to go because someone thought the mouse might be seen as masturbating!

Has the world gone mad?

I have experienced some censorship in my time. In a non-fiction series about animals, illustration by photographs there was one slide of an elephant which the US publisher wanted us to change because it showed the bull's penis. It was so gigantic none of us - five of us looked at the slides together - had noticed it, thinking it was a leg!

Just in case you think these things always originate in the USA, I also had a book banned from Islington libraries once. It was a picture book called Nancy No-Size and the librarian objected to a page in which three siblings compare skin colour in a bath and the text reads "she wasn't dark like her big sister and she wasn't fair like her baby brother. So she wasn't dark and she wasn't light: she was no colour at all." (I quote from memory but am no expert on the books of Mary Hoffman).

Taken out of context, it looks bad but a/ it was about a mixed race family, like mine and b/had been preceded by pages in which Nancy thought she was 'no size at all"and "No age at all" because she was a middle child: equally nonsensical statements.

Actually everything in this story came from my own family. It was dedicated to my middle daughter of three, who was sometimes one of the two big girls and sometimes one of the two little ones. My girls had two female cousins with whom they shared a bath on visits, who were the same racial mix as them. One was dark like them; the other fair like her red-headed English father. They would compare skin tones and comment on them.

I was banned for "racism" but I think it would have been more racist to leave out skin colour in a book about finding your place in the family when you are not sure if you are short or tall, old or young.

Anyway, it's not pleasant to be banned and criticised for something the opposite of your intentions in writing a book and I feel for Halse Anderson. But I thank Professor Scroggins for drawing my, and many other people's, attention to her book.