Monday, September 26, 2011

Grumble grumble soapbox grumble

Over the weekend, I found out that a book I recently read -- Twenty Boy Summer,* don't judge it by the title -- is starting to be banned by school districts.

People, I kind of thought we were over the "book banning" thing. I mean, the Harry Potter fiasco was AGES ago, am I right?  Yes, I know, the American Library Association still has Banned Book Week, which is going on now, but I'd like to think that's more for historical purposes of celebrating how far we've come since folks (whose underwear was clearly three sizes too small, causing serious discomfort and confusion) started campaigning against the evils of Faulkner and Mark Twain.  (And don't forget Judy Blume.  Gasp!  Girls get periods! And think about God!  Why I never.)

I think we all know that some books are not "age appropriate" for some kids.  But rather than trot out the old lines of, "But that's a parent's responsibility!" I'd actually like to just say that reading an inappropriate book is just part of growing up. 

Was I warped by reading Flowers in the Attic at age 12?  Of course, but that's part of what gives me my charm today.  (Also, I feel like my parents' biggest objection, had they been aware that I was reading a book about filicide and incest in the sixth grade, their greatest objection still would have been shoddy writing. Be that as it may.)

I remember reading naughty words and scenes via Christopher Pike and thinking, "I shouldn't be reading this."  And a split second later deciding, "But I'm going to, anyway." 

(Am I really hanging my hat on the argument that reading a book called Die Softly is an important part of gaining maturity?  I sure am!)

Frankly, literary rebellion is going to be the most minor of a kid's possible rebellions while growing up, but it's the most important one.  Not only is the act of deciding what media you are going to invite into your brain, regardless of what your parents and teachers might think, an important step to independence, but it helps create a brain capable of creative thought. You can't think outside the box if you've never ventured beyond the box.

Now, I'm not saying kids should go read smut just for fun, but that if kids don't find themselves reading the questionable (and then deciding, independently, to either go forward with some smutty fun or to put the book back on the smutty shelf) they may never figure out for themselves, "This is amazing!" or "Haha, this is gratuitous, and on top of that, it blows!"

Is that a scary thought for parents of impressionable youth?  I imagine it probably is.  But ask yourself --  "Self, was there ever a time in MY teenage years where I read something I maybe shouldn't have?  Something that was possibly beyond my level of maturity to understand?"And if the answer to either question is "Yes," ask yourself -- "Did I suffer any actual damage from that decision?"  (And I imagine the answer will most likely be, "No.")

What age-inappropriate (or maybe just inappropriate-inappropriate) books did you read as a kid?  And am I wrong, were you left scarred for life?  (I'm picturing someone who read Lord of the Flies being unable to enjoy barbecue pork.  That would be a tragedy worth investigating.)

* FYI, the objection to Twenty Boy Summer is that (spoiler alert!) a teenage girl has sex with a teenage boy (with a condom) and doesn't feel like a chewed up piece of gum, cake with poop baked inside, or stomped on rose petals afterwards.  The horror.


  1. Your FYI is hilarious! And so true.

  2. Inappropriate books:
    The Exorcist (11 yrs)
    The Happy Hooker (13 yrs)

    Countless paperbacks about WWII and whatever was currently popular left lying around the house in the 70's - like the Exorcist. The lasting damage there was that the movie, when it finally came out paled horror-wise to what I had imagined in my head and I actually laughed through it. Nothing has ever been as terrifying since. So perhaps it ruined horror stories for me.

    As for the Happy Hooker - a lot of what grossed me out then, still does - so it did not turn me into a perv.

  3. this is absolutely true and very well-articulated. i'm always referring back to weird adolecent experiences in explaining the person i am now, and the number one weird adolecent experience i tell people about is the fact that i read way more than a few of ian fleming's james bond novels. meaning, i had way more than a few opportunities to think, i should stop reading this. there were so many weird sexual images for a young girl (shower sex and murderous sex and hand fetishes oh my!), and i wouldn't read those books now, but the fact that i read them then is surely part of the reason i didn't go into high school with the intolerance/sensitivity of my mormon-peers who lobbied to knock the invisible man off our reading list. the invisible effing man!

  4. Books were first. I'm afraid blogs are on the chopping block next. Banning blogs will be all the rage. Inappropriate material posted by just anyone! Psht. The nerve.

  5. Right on! I want to be a librarian (although probably not one who works with the public regularly) and have a degree in English Lit, so I feel pretty strongly about this sort of thing. On my new blog I wrote a brief post about Banned Books Week, and it's been interesting to learn about what gets banned. For example, I checked out And Tango Makes Three, which is one of the most banned books of the past five years because it is about - gasp!- gay penguins. And it's a true story. In reality, it is an absolutely darling picture book about the first little penguin in Central Park Zoo to have two daddies. After reading it, I thought, "and THIS is the most banned book of 4 of the past 5 years?"

    As for me, I read a few books about teenage sex & pregnancy in middle school, which made me feel all sorts of inappropriate, but on the plus side, I keep managing to not get pregnant. I've also read (and gave up on) some trash that was somewhat scandalous and gratuitous and, in my opinion, poorly written. That stuff's not worthwhile, and not because of the scandalous content.

  6. Most of what I read were not really objectionable, but I did watch a lot of films that were in would have been in the same ball park.

    I remember watching Pulp Fiction and being blown away by the dialogue and the story structure. It is the first film I remember watching and having it really challenge me. I had to think about what was going on and how these stories intersected. It lead me to continue to find independent films and foreign language films. It was also filled with lots of adult language, themes etc.

    *I apologize is this is not my most coherent comment ever. I had seven hours of sleep over the weekend that was spent in Las Vegas and am too apathetic at this point to give it a proper proofread.

  7. This is very true. I too read Flowers in the Attic at twelve and neither live in an attic or married my brother. Just sayin'...

  8. Parent of impressionable youth, here. The way I see it is this, if they read something they're not ready for, they're probably not going to understand it and they'll simply, move on uninjured. (Run on sentence much?) If they do understand it, I should probably be talking to them about it anyway, so it becomes a jumping off point. Good and good.

    So says the woman who read many inappropriate things in her youth (and was never stopped by her mother).

  9. I read and did a school book report on a Piers Anothony book called Ogre, Ogre in the 5th grade (it's fantasy). The ogre wants to rape a young girl and the teacher called my parents about it. I don't even remember the book that well, just that the teacher called my parents to tell them I was reading an inappropriate book.

  10. Jennifer - ha, thanks.

    Jeannie - there's really a book called The Happy Hooker? That's HI-larious.

    Sandy - that's it, filthy reading material should be mandatory for Mormon teens. (I am kinda serious about that.)

    Patty - I swear, people are getting downright uppity these days. Confound it all ...
    Alex - the poor penguins! they just want their story read :(

    Colt - solid comment, never fear. I'm picking up what you're laying down.

    Christine Murray - I'd like to do a poll of girls who read that book, just to see if any of them did marry their brothers and/or move into attics.

    Delia - very good point. I'm sure there is a *a lot* I missed in books when I was young.

    Melanie - oh Piers Anthony ... you filthy, filthy man. I read one of his as well, he was a bit of a perv, wasn't he?

  11. I, too, read Flowers in the Attic when I was 13. That was after I received the prequel (Garden of Shadows, maybe?) as a birthday present from a classmate of mine. So you know HER MOM probably bought it for her to give to me. That same mom then let us watch horror movies with nudie women at a slumber party later that year. But I digress.

    I read Forever by Judy Blume, which was full of sex, at the same age. I also read a whole lot of Dean Koontz novels which were full of violence and sex. My parents knew I was reading the books, but they never seemed to have a problem with it. Of course, they also let me have a TV in my room that had HBO, so I watched Basic Instinct and other wildly age-inappropriate movies all the time.

    It's especially funny in retrospect because at that same point in my life I had friends who were NOT ALLOWED UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES to watch The Simpsons because it wasn't appropriate for impressionable youth.

  12. I think I commented before, and as another commenter pointed out, Piers Anthony is totally pervy and I was way into his books in middle school, probably because they felt a little forbidden to me.

    I'm sure I read other age inappropriate things, and I know I watched some age inappropriate things (sex class in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, anyone?), but I think I still turned out relatively well.

  13. I always think of this historical fiction novel I read when I was 12 called The Passion of Artemisia, that I actually really enjoyed, though it was frankly sexual. It was probably the first book with sex in it that I read. I went to a private school with a really large library, so I had pretty much free reign to check out anything I liked. I also remember reading Judy Blume's Then Again Maybe I Won't which is the boy version of Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? and then asking my mom what wet dreams were. At the dinner table.

    I'm actually really glad my parents didn't interfere with my reading because it allowed me to develop my own taste. I quickly figured out that Flowers in the Attic (read at 14, maybe?) and that Jack Weyland ( dug up at my grandparent's house) sort of sucks. And I figured it out all on my own. I think more kids should be given free reign of an abnormally large library.

  14. Great post. I try not freak out too much over what my pre-teen boys read. After all, I'd read Jaws, Flowers in the Attic, Amityville Horror, a bunch of Stephen King, and the Exorcist by the time I was in 7th grade.

    My reading tastes are very different these days :-)

  15. Nobody ever had the sex talk with me. I found out how sex worked from reading a sci-fi/fantasy sort of book I found in the library about a girl who comes from a world where they enslave their wives to use the special abilities bred into them. Can't remember the book, but I don't think I'll ever forget the moment of "Oh, so THAT's how that works."