Tuesday, February 2, 2010

To Censor...or Not?

An article in the local paper piqued my interest. The Texas prison system routinely censors all reading material for inmates. What do the officials look for? Anything that promotes or describes explicit sexuality, plans for escape, extreme violence, or fighting tactics is placed on a banned list.

This might be well and good, but the topic only interested me because none of us is completely exempt from censorship sometime in our lives.

Since J. D. Salinger died this week at age 91, I thought about his one great success, the book Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951. I was a young girl at the time, so I probably did not pay attention to the release of this novel. As I grew up, though, I learned groups had challenged and censored it many times. Why? It contained profanity, sexuality, and teenage angst. While he wrote it as an adult novel, what do you suppose teenagers did? They sought out the book whenever possible. As a teen, I knew not to touch that book. I never read it. Now, I will.

Gustave Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary in 1857. The novel contained adulterous affairs and obscenities. I knew about the book but did not read it until I was in my thirties. Even then, I timidly read it, hoping no one would discover my little secret. I liked it, even though it was rather depressing and dreary.

Even comic books have landed on a censored list. As a child in the third grade, my parents forbid me to read horrid comic books. They allowed Archie comics, Little Lulu, and Casper the Friendly Ghost, but nothing bad. Truthfully? I didn't know bad ones existed. But I played with a classmate—a boy—who lived down the block. Guess what he had under his bed? A big flat box filled with comic books about crime and horror. I read and saw the graphics depicting murder, gore, severed heads, cannibalism, and torture. I wonder if his parents knew he had them. If not, where did a nine-year-old obtain enough money to buy these—and where did he find them? I'll never know, but I do know I never wanted to see them again.

As a teenage girl, my mother told me never to read romance magazines. I didn't know about those, either. One of my girlfriends did, though, the one who was just a little different from the rest of us in my little "crowd." She read Modern Romance, Secrets, and Revealing Romances. I went through a time in which she'd bring a couple to school, hand them over to me, and I'd stuff them in my thick, leather zippered notebook to take home. I soon became bored with them. 

Certainly, we need to protect our children and grandchildren. I wouldn't have wanted my children reading some of the things I did, either, but probably they did and I never found out. And you know? They…and I…turned out to be worthwhile adults without any serious psychological problems. I've often wondered—should we allow any person to read whatever he could understand? No matter the content? For myself, I have always censored certain literature, movies, and music. Why? Because of my personal preferences—not moral standards particularly. I really don't care about the reading material of others, as long as it doesn't affect me personally.

Censorship will always be with us.

Celia Yeary

Romance…and a little bit o' Texas

TEXAS BLUE-eBook and Print



Published by: The Wild Rose Press



  1. Every year our library puts up a display of banned books for Banned Books Week, which is usually in the fall. And each year I am amazed at how many I've read without realizing they were banned. I'll also admit to checking out a few simply because they were banned. Books by Maya Angelou, for example, and The Color Purple. Little did my son and I know when we were rolling over with laughter at the Captain Underpants books that we were reading banned books. The same went for Harry Potter books. Celia's Catcher in the Rye is there, as is Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockinbird. More recently, The Kite Runner was banned, and Alice Seybold's The Lovely Bones.

    For more information, go here: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

    and here's a list of things you can do to support Banned Books Week and fight censorship in your community

  2. LIANA--yes, I know. Our library does that, and our Half-Price Book Store makes a display in front of the store with special prices. I'm amazed at the titles of banned books. for the Texas Prison system, Joyce Carol Oates was on there. Many of those Texas banns for inmates make sense, I guess, but most do not.
    Censorship is in the eye of the beholder. Celia

  3. My head cannot wrap itself around the thought of censure-ship. Humans can be so foolish!

  4. MARY--I know. Any group can ban books, all due to their views and beliefs.I'm not against the Texas Prison System banning certain things, but Joyce Carol Oates??? Celia

  5. When I was a teenager I asked my mother about Catcher in the Rye. She shrugged and said I might like it but that she thought it was more of a boys thing than a girls thing. I never did get around to it.

  6. ALICE--interesting. If my mother had said that, she would have meant she had no idea what it was about. but I also would have thought, "Well, no way am I going to read a boy's book." Maybe your mother knew very well the content. Celia

  7. Celia, I had no idea that some of the books you listed are banned. Captain Underpants?! Where is that banned?

    I seem to always have practised auto-censure in all aspects of my life. I'll stay away from things I know will disturb me, or leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    Interesting topic, as always.

  8. Hi Celia,

    I never censored my kids' reading material. I figured as long as they were reading, that was the main thing. I tried to steer them, sometimes, and we read together every night for YEARS--I miss those days! We read some wonderful books together, and I enjoyed it even more when they got older and were able to read a paragraph here and there--it gave us an opportunity to talk about it, and a lot of the books we read were books they would never have gone into the library and picked up on their own.

    GREAT TOPIC. I wonder if the prison system censors Fahrenheit 451? LOL Which brings up another topic--so many inmates now are able to get an education (another sore spot with me, since my kids are having to PAY for theirs)-- I wonder what happens when their courses require them to have access to censored material?


  9. Hey Celia,

    Censorship is a hot topic in most places. If books were banned down here, I was oblivious. As an avid young reader, the librarians in our town let me read and check out books from the adult section and I never thought a thing about it. (Maybe the banned books weren't there?)

    I think the core question might be: do some books/ideas cause people to behave badly? Societal norms change but someone always thinks they know what is Right. Look at clothing, for instance. What was worn in the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000 - all very different. Heck, we had our skirt hemlines measured in high school in the deep south - too short and you were sent home. That was clothing censorship and I hated it.

    I think folks self-censor. I don't go out and eat ice cream all day (but I could) and I certainly don't go to the adult toy store and max out my credit card.

    Taking charge of your own life is the best way to determine your likes and dislikes.

    That's my two cents.

  10. FRANCESCA--exactly. We can censure ourselves. I understand the schools and other places censoring certain books as a whole--kids can always read the censored ones if they want, so that's not a big deal to me. Like you said--if it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I'm not going to read it. Celia

  11. CHERYL--interesting about your kids--we mirror each other there. My son--a real genius kid--read the newpaper in first grade. That's what he did after school in 1st grade--spread the front page out on the floor and read. I thought nothing of it--until he began to ask--where's Vietnam? What's the DaNang Province? What's an MK-47? Still, I didn't stop him. My mother said I didn't pay enough attention to what my kids were doing. They were fantastic kids--maybe just a little too smart for their own good. In Jr. High, one of his teachers questioned me aobut him bringing adult books to school to read.I didn't even know he had them. Both kids became highly educated with hihg moral standards. Funny about our son--he's homeschooling his three boys for a few years--he allows some interesting reading material--but he says no to some!!!! Haha. Celia

  12. MAGGIE-In the Texas Prison System, the books are banned because, yes, they believe--true or not--that certain material will give the inmates ideas on sexuality and how to escape--that made me laugh. Inmates don't need any help thinking up all these things on their own.
    Like Francesca said, too, we do censure ourselves. The ice cream parlor was a good example--most of us keep ourselves in check on many fronts. And I love your two cents' worth! Celia

  13. I haven't read it yet, either, but have planned to get to it for years. I did read Lady Chatterly's Lover not long ago and it was okay, more shock value at that time than anything else. I skimmed through parts, so yes, I self-censor, also.

    As far as prisons, I do think they should filter out anything too awfully violent unless it focuses on the negative results more than on the 'thrill' of the violence. I have to agree with the escape books, also. No sense encouraging that thought process.

    Otherwise, people will be drawn to books that have subjects already of their interest, and banning only draws more interest. If I were publishers, I would refuse to put out anything "hate centered" with no redeeming value, though. There is no point in that, just like all the rude, obnoxious stuff on TV that shouldn't be there encouring young people that being obnoxious is funny.

    So yes, I agree with a very moderate, lightly used application of censorship. In some cases, it is necessary.

  14. LORAINE--a thoughtful answer. If censorship takes place anywhere, I suppose it should be prisons. After all, their other rights have been forfeited--why should they also read whatever they want?
    Yes, I agree with gratuitous violence, for that's how most of our movies are. And for that very reason, I see few movies--one or two a year. Celia

  15. When in high school "Catcher in the Rye" and "Lady Chatterly's Lover" were banned. My son's middle school reading list had "Catcher in the Rye". I bought it for him and he laughed so much his older sister decided she had to read it and then I did. I never could figure out why it was controversial, nor why "Lady Chatterly's Lover" was. I guess it's the difference in the times.

    My mother and grandmother read romance magazines. After reading a story or two I was sorely disappointed that they weren't racier. My mother's diary didn't have an interesting tidbit in it either.

  16. I read "Lady Chatterly's Lover" when I was seventeen. A friend brought it to school and it went from hands to hands. I made sure I was on my own, in a secluded place when I read it but my parents caught me. My mother wanted to confiscate it. I cried that I had to give it back to my friend. My father shrugged and told Mom: "She just graduated from high school. It's time for her to develop her own taste and judgement." I finished reading the book in peace. Dad stopped locking the bookcase with books not "for his girls."

    I promised my daughter that I won't give my books to my granddaughters until they are eighteen. I guess you can call that a ban. LOL