Saturday, September 28, 2013

Banned Books - an Authorial Perspective

Thank you for joining us this week.  I love any excuse to talk about books, to focus on literature and its impact, and to hear others' opinions!  To end the week off, I asked a few of my author friends their thoughts on Banned Books Week.  Check our their answers, and if you have any more questions, leave a comment!  

Please join me in welcoming Jodi Milner and David Powers King, authors who agreed to answer a few questions about banned books.  



Jodi L. Milner is a full-time mom by day and a fantasy writer by naptime, she hates writing bios and wishes that someone would do it for her. Until then, she is cringing at the blatant use of forced third person and will go hunt down some chocolate chips the second this about page is posted. 


Non-stop author, connoisseur of crullers, and a reviewer of books and movies, David Powers King presently resides in the Mountain West with his wife and two kidlets.

What’s your take on calling attention to banned books?
David:  When books are banned by whoever has the position and the disposition to do so, the natural response for many hearing of this news may begin to wonder why the book was banned, and this gives more attention to the book than it otherwise would have received—from what I’ve seen.

Jodi: Calling attention to banned books is the best kind of marketing an author can get.  Starting a controversy about a book's subject matter tends to push more people towards reading it than it does to dissuade them.  

How frequently do we as readers take offense at something that you as authors never meant to be offensive?
Jodi: All the time.  It's so common that most authors shrug it off and move on.  In my circle of writers there are very few who intend to offend their readers, it's a bad move to turn people away from what you write. An offended reader doesn't come back for more.   

David: I can’t speak for the readers, but I can for myself as a reader, and I can’t say that I’ve ever been offended by something I’ve read in a book. I may not have liked elements of it or agreed with the message that an author was trying to make (and at times I thought their ideas and perceptions on things were humorous), I expect them same from whoever decided to give my words a read. If you find something offensive, from a book or elsewhere, ask yourself, why does this offend me?

Could you ever make a cause for banning books?
David:  Not really. Books will either be read or they won’t. There’s plenty of material out there that I likely wouldn’t read—more because it doesn’t interest me—rather than because it offends me.

Jodi: There are certain subjects that are universally wrong, those that have to do with glorifying the causing of harm to others, either physically or emotionally, and should never see the light of day.  Sadly, with the event of the eBook, it's easier than ever to get this type of material out into the mainstream.  Banning these books however, is still not the answer.  It only causes sensationalism, which in turn gets more people interested.  A better solution would be to encourage publishers and distributors to raise their standards, making it harder to get those books out there.

Do you think the action of banning books may backfire?
Jodi:  In the same way that calling attention to banned books draws attention, the very act of banning a book sets that book apart.  It puts it on the watch lists and tongues of hundreds if not thousands of community groups. In effect it makes more people aware that the book even exists.  The more people who know, the more people who can read it for themselves and see what all the shouting is about. 

David: Absolutely! In a lot of ways, banning a book will give the book more attention. If you want a book to make it onto school reading lists, ban it. I recall a few books, considered classics, which I had to read in school (with a mixed reaction in most cases), and yet the books that really got me into reading, and then writing, weren’t from the reading list, but from book fairs and peers.  

Are there any other thoughts you have about censorship or banning books?
David: The real reason anyone wants to ban or censor any literature is fear. If the work is in contrast to their lifestyle, religion, politics, etc, or if there is a perceived harm that erroneous thinking or brainwashing may occur in other readers, it shakes their static foundations, their view of what’s right and their view of what everyone else ought to be thinking, is threatened. Having a publisher drop one of my books over a matter of censorship on their part, I experienced this first hand.

Jodi:  The best lecture about banning and censorship that I've ever heard was given by this year's keynote speaker for the "Life, the Universe, and Everything" writer's conference, Megan Whalen Turner.  She emphatically states that it is not the responsibility of the public to determine what people should and should not read, but the responsibility of each individual to have the moral fiber to decide for themselves if the material they are reading is appropriate or not.  Our children should raised in such a way that when they read something that makes them uncomfortable, they are welcome to shut the book, make decisions for themselves, and have a safe haven to discuss the issue.  When the opportunity to make these decisions is taken away from people, it does not make them stronger, is weakens their ability to use this discretion, simply because they are not accustomed to using it.

How does banning books – or the firsthand experience of having a book banned – affect you as an author?
David:  The initial reaction isn't exactly a positive one, I'll be honest. And this is normal. Healthy even, but anything that authors do beyond that point, who had their work banned for whatever reason, is a choice. There are more stories to write and other opportunities to pursue. Chin up. Be proud of your work. Letting a book ban to affect us negatively does nothing but weigh down our creativity. Ban all you'd like, but it won't make me a hostage. 

Jodi: I'm still new enough to the game that I don't yet have any real first hand experience with having a book banned. However, it is one of those possibilities along with hate mail and trolling that most authors must one day face.  Part of me would love to get popular enough to have people debating the issues I raise in my books, the other part of me wonders if I'll be able to take the heat. 

What’s your favorite banned book?
Jodi:  From the ALA's 2012-2013 list of banned/challenged books, my favorites are The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.  


David:  There’s a lot to pick from, but I absolutely love The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and anything from Mark Twain (I even have a thick volume of his work on my computer desk mantle). And while I’m not exactly a fan of The Catcher in the Rye, I find the psychology of it fascinating.

Reading is definitely a symbiotic experience.  It's so nice to be able to hear the other side of the story!  Thank you, Jodi and David, for joining us today!  Come back anytime!

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