Banning Books: Guest Author Denise Drespling Answers

I use Grammarly to detect plagiarism because Shia LaBeouf’s twitter apology makes a more exciting buzzfeed post than a copycat blog.

Courtesy of Google Images and Arielle Selzer-Graphic Design

Some of the most  admirable works have made it to the banned books list for a multitude of extreme reasons. While banned books impart terror into book lovers, it’s also a milestone for writers who have broken the mold of “acceptable literature.” Each year, new books are added to the collection of stories that should not be read according to a straight-laced minority.

With the help of my guest blogger, Denise Drespling, we tackle the questions readers past and present ask when a book is banned for a bad reason.

Q: In light of contemporary authors Rainbow Rowell and Meg Madina’s having their talks cancelled at the last minute, how does it benefit students to learn more about writing/reading when school boards or individual parents take them away for sometimes insignificant portions of a story?

Denise: Taking away books is never a benefit to a student. It’s already difficult to get some of them to read, but when you take away the books they identify with it’s even more difficult. Though, in many ways a banned book can benefit an author, which is the complete opposite of what those pushing for a ban want to accomplish. You tell a teen, “Don’t drink and party.” Do they do it anyway? Yup!

So, if you tell a teen, “Don’t read this book because it has sex, violence, and bad language,” do you really expect them to listen? They won’t. The book will now be read more widely, which benefits the author. And I guess, if the students are reading the books that were banned, it could, in the end, benefit them for having read it. So, I change my mind. To those who choose rebellion and read the book anyway, there is a benefit.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Q: While school boards have the authority to remove books, should there be more consideration or regulation before a quality book is taken out of the hands of willing students?

Denise: The process for getting a book removed should be highly involved, forcing the parent to prove why the book is harmful. A book should never be banned based on one parent’s complaint. It should take a whole pack of parents. I mean, like, petition numbers. In so many ways, this is complete arrogance. One parent decides, “I don’t want my child reading this,” and therefore decrees that no child anywhere should read this.

Why should other parents get to say what my child reads in school? It’s one thing to go to a teacher and explain that you’d rather she assign a different book for your child, based on your personal morals. It’s quite another to go to a school board and force an entire high school of hundreds or thousands of students to follow your personal moral code.


Q: When do you feel it is necessary to ban a book, and why?

Denise: I don’t know that I ever feel it’s necessary. Teachers select books that they feel will speak to the students and will teach them something. Don’t we trust our teachers’ opinions anymore? If I questioned a book, the first thing I would do is read it myself. This should be a requirement for all parents pushing a ban. Then, I’d talk to the teacher and ask her why she thought it was worthwhile. Teachers aren’t idiots. We need to trust the teachers’ opinions that the content value outweighs what could be seen as a problem and not put our kids into a reading bubble.

I will make this concession. Four different school shootings were said to have been influenced by Stephen King’s (writing as Richard Bachman) book Rage. Here is a case where it was proven that this book could potentially be harmful. I think if this happens once with a book, you can’t blame the book; twice, you start to wonder, but after four, okay. In this case, I haven’t heard that it was required or suggested reading by any high school, and the author himself asked the publisher to discontinue the printing of it. And I should mention that the book is now harder to find and is highly valuable on the resell markets. People want to read it simply because it caused these problems and because it’s not available.

Amanda: Even as a devoted Stephen King “constant reader,” I’ve read Rage and I must agree with Denise in this scenario because some books (although well-executed) are not destined for public eyes due to their extreme content.

bachmanQ: Which famously banned book have you read simply because it was on the list?

Denise: I recently purchased The Bachman Books, a collection that includes Rage, and it was only because of the circumstances surrounding it. Not every day does an author pull his own book. Beyond that, I don’t generally pay attention to the lists because I think they’re utterly ridiculous and useless. I would read them all and I may even make a concerted effort to read them all just because. Luckily, my mother never felt it necessary to restrict my reading. When I was in high school, Catcher in the Rye was still required reading and it should be. It’s fabulous and I remember it being one of the only books I liked of what was required. And it got banned, why? Bad language and poop? I mean, really. There’s a sex scene in Romeo and Juliet. Where’s the outrage there? We even watched the 1960s version of the movie where there was a boob! “Ban it!” said no parent.

Q: What would your response be if one of your books was banned?

Denise: I would shout for joy. Not only would this ban mean that teens everywhere will now be clamoring to read my book while hiding it in their textbooks, but also the book will be talked about on various web sites and media outlets and in multiple discussions around the bake sale table. You can’t buy publicity like that! In fact, when I heard that Eleanor & Park was banned, Rainbow posted about it on Facebook, and I left her a congratulatory comment.

Q: If you could suggest any banned book to the masses, what would it be and why?

Denise: All of them! Read all the books everywhere! Reading banned books is a much better way to be rebellious than, say, trying out shoplifting.

Amanda: As we near the end of this impromptu interview, Denise has a few final notes in regards to the discussion of banning books in an age where students are learning to use an ipod before they have a healthy dose of books and poetry.

Do I believe that a parent should monitor what their kids read/watch/listen to? Absolutely. Do I believe have the right to tell teachers what their children are permitted to read? Sure, but one parent does not have the right to take away a book from a kid who might desperately need it. Therein is the tragedy. Eleanor & Park is a beautiful book about subjects that aren’t always tackled in such a real way. There are teens out there that need Eleanor & Park.

What really makes my blood boil is the reason the books are being banned: Bad language? Sex? Violence?  Are we forgetting that all of these are highly available to teens, but also that most are already experiencing them? Is a teen who uses the f-word more often than he changes his boxer shorts going to relate more to a book like Eleanor & Park, which has real teens being teens, or Romeo and Juliet, which is so far removed from our current way of life that even adults struggle to understand what the heck Shakespeare was talking about? I had to read Romeo and Juliet in high school. I did not enjoy it and I was frustrated by it.

My guess would also be that those same parents freaking out over a book with a handful of curse words do not monitor every Facebook chat, every phone conversation, and every lunchroom argument. Teens curse. They have sex. They get violent. They even drink. Is reading a book going to make them do any of these things more than they already do? Doubtful, but at least they’ll be reading. In the end, drinking to the point of drunkenness won’t increase their intelligence (in fact, quite the opposite—you know, dead brain cells and all), but reading a book about someone drinking into oblivion will expand their minds and make them just a little smarter.

I’d rather read a book with my child and explain it to her than to have her go around, reading things behind my back that she might be left to interpret (possibly misinterpret) on her own. At her age range (7), some parents try to keep out anything with magic or fantasy in it (like “Tinkerbell” or “My Little Pony”). I made the decision to teach her that magic is not real, animals do not actually talk, and sadly, there are no unicorns or Pegasus horses. As a result, she has a wild imagination that will benefit her all through life, and I love that. If I see her behavior change negatively as a result of a certain show or book, then I’ll cut it and explain why. It’s always better to teach them what is an untruth and/or wrong behavior than to try to remove every hint of it.

Incoming random kitty picture for your viewing pleasure. A.K.A. Mommy showing off her kitty’s Christmas present:

At the top of her new, 80-inch cat tree. Love my Bengal baby!

At the top of her new, 80-inch cat tree. Love my Bengal baby!

I want to thank my lovely colleague and fellow grad student, Denise Drespling, for the time she took to be my guest this week. Mosey on over to her delightful website where you can read her exciting trip through NaNoWriMo and other writing-related posts. Denise is one the most talented and determined writers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. And don’t forget to check out the plagiarism checker by Grammarly that helps this grateful blogger to write a thorough blog post.

Happy reading and writing my lovelies!

1 Comment

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One response to “Banning Books: Guest Author Denise Drespling Answers

  1. Pingback: Goodbye 2013, Thanks For All The Fish! | Storyteller in the Digital Age

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