Monday, September 26, 2011


Conversations about banned books have been prominent on FaceBook this week. The topic always interests me. Who has the right to ban or censor reading material for another? I realize the words have different meanings, but in reality they result in the same thing: one person or institution placing limitations on the reading material for another person.
This is just not the American way!

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.

J. D. Salinger wrote in such a way his most famous book became the focus of censorship. 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. I should, though.

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. I am a real scaredy cat.

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


  1. Years ago, when I gave each of my two kids their own computer, a friend asked me if I monitored them. I didn't then and I don't now. Censorship starts early and usually at home.

    I told my friend anything I did to censor their activity waves a red flag which can encourage curiosity. Therefore, I allowed my children to set their own limits and created a trusting relationship.

    Last Christmas, I gave them each a laptop and, as always, with the stipulation their grades must not fail. Both of them finished the last year on the Principal's List (95+) and my son is now in his first year in college.

    Both my wife and I know our libertarian methods are not for everyone, but in my house, the trusting relationship fostered open discussions on any subject.

  2. What a fun topic Celia. My Dad had a small bookcase always locked. The only one locked out of ten others. Sure enough it was the one I often looked at until I managed to find the hiding place of the key.

    My first forbidden book, Lady Chaterley's Lover, came from a friend at school. It secretely circulated in my class when I was sixteen. Mom caught me reading it, gave me a lecture about dirty books, and insisted I should return it right away. Later Dad asked if he could borrow it. LOL

    Now I would try to protect my grandchildren from some books that could wrongly affect them.

  3. I like having the choice to read whatever I like. With that said, my preferences are very narrow and I realize that some people are more easily swayed than others.

    From what I can tell the folks that advocate censorship seem to feel that certain content offends them and can be inflamatory.

    While I don't advocate showing inappropriate (very violent acts or sexual situations not in touch with the culture mores) content to children, I advocate every adult should have the choice to read what they want.

    Who draws the line for chilren's content? I don't have an answer for that, and I suspect that what is considered moral and safe for children changes through time as our cultural norms change.

    It's certainly a quandary.


  4. Celia, I never thought much about banned books. I read Madame Bovery as a high school senior and didn't really see anything to scandalous about it. Heck I saw that behavior on Dynasty and Dallas growing up. LOL!!

    Never did read Catcher in the Rye. I don't even know what it's about. Maybe one day I'll check it out.

    Heck I gave Andrew "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" to read this summer. My husband said, "Why is he reading that?" I said: "Why not?" He replied: "I don't think they let kids read in it school because it's got racism in it."

    Well, It's been forever since I read it, so I gave Andrew a new book and once I read it again, and can determine if that's the case, I'll give it back to him.

    Writing, in a way, is a reflection of the times and you can't help it. I suppose you have to explain that to a young reader so they understand.

    As a parent, I pretty much know what know kind of books interest Andrew and what doesn't. He'll branch out when he's ready. And I'll be there.


  5. I learned about sex from the Bible and my mother who always made me look words up in the dictionary. So when I came across words like whore, fornication and begat, I looked them up. They haven't band the Bible yet. I remember MAD Magazine was the big one, banned by the Catholic Church. We kids of course wanted to see why. And Mark Twain! He talked about racism because he was opposed to it Banning is like waving forbidden fruit in front of someone's nose and may only serve to make the work more popular. Wish I could get banned.

  6. Desmond--I am not a libertarian, but I did this with our children. There might have been a difference, though, since they grew up in the 60s. Our son came home from first grade every day and read the newspaper! He'd spread it out on the floor and read the front page news--I thought nothing of it. Now? I might be a little more cautious--don't know, though. He'd say,"Mom, what's the Viet Cong?" ..and other assorted questions. By second grade, he watched the everyning news and knew all about the Vietnam war--when it was going over my head.
    He was overly bright, too, and our daughter had no limitations put on her, either. She read more mild things, though, and did not care about the war.
    I came to believe that a child should read whatever he/she could understand.My grandson have no limitations put on them for reading material--their dad's rule--but they do on the computer--mom's rule.
    They live in peace, anyway!
    Thanks so much for your comment--it was truly interesting.

  7. Mona! I can't believe you did that!
    Like you, I'm more cautious with my grandsons.
    And your dad asked to borrow LCL? Funny! Celia

  8. MAGGIE--good point about acceptable social mores.I agree that no adult should have restrictions put on what they read.
    But sometimes I wonder about the amount and kind of things the kids today are seeing that we did not.
    Still, we survived, and so will they.
    I do understand the prison system censoring reading material for prisoners--I say that with some hesitation, knowing that I don't want restrictions on me. But...I'm not in prison.
    Thanks for your comment--Celia

  9. Steph--I like your attitude that he will branch out when he's ready.
    It's the eye of the beholder sort of thing.
    I censored myself, knowing there were books I wouldn't like to read for their content.
    Thanks for stopping by--Celia

  10. CYNTHIA you're so right about words in the Bible--and it hasn't been banned, at least in free countries. And yes, banning something for a kid is a red flag...they'll do everything they can to find out what the fuss is!
    Like you, if someone would ban just one of my books, I might get rich.

  11. Celia, as a freshman in high school, one of the girls in my Sunday School class at church wrote for the romance magazines. (Stupid me, my neighbor gave me several and, until then, I thought they were real stories.) She was a wonderful writer and skipped her senior year in high school because she received a full scholarship to Wellesly. I would say the experience didn't stunt her development, wouldn't you?

    The things I think should be banned by parents are those that show degrading and depraved acts toward others, such as straight porn. Not Madame Bovary, but the type sold at the XXX stores along the highway.

    However, perhaps Desmond is right and we have to trust our children to find their own center. I never banned books for my kids. They seemed to gravitate toward classics like C.S. Lewis. Today they are both avid readers and both very nice adults with high moral standards, and one is a children's librarian.

  12. I hate to admit this, but I never did read Catcher in the Rye, or the other books you mentioned. I don't know why, maybe I wasn't the curious type child. I am now, but just never have thought about reading them even now. It's bad enough reading romance novels. ;) The other day I was on call for jury duty and the first time I actually got as far as sitting in the jury chairs. When I mentioned I dabble in romance writing, would you believe the woman sitting in front of me snickered?! I was stunned at her rudeness - she had declared she was a college professor. I'd say she should have know better and I wonder what she prohibits in her classes. Hmmmmmm

    I think the more you know, the better a person you are. All avenues should be explored and one should continue to learn all their life.

    My brother and his wife visited us last week. I noticed that he is closed minded about a lot of subjects and feel sorry for him. I love to know the world like I do through my penpals over the last 22 years. I love to travel, watch the history channel, and so on.

    WOW, guess you opened a door with me. My opinion is not to censor books. What are 'they' afraid of?

  13. I am surprised at the number of banned and censored books I have read, and all without knowing they were banned. Sometimes I read them just because they are banned to find out for myself what the fuss is all about :)

  14. Caroline--I liked Desmond's statement, too.
    In reality, I think the more varied things we read, the more educated we will be.
    You expressed perfectly what we should keep from our children or grandchildren. There's nothing to be gained for them to see porn or read, as you say, depraved acts, and especially anything bad to do with children.
    Thanks for your good comment--I always want to know what you think. Celia

  15. PAISLEY--I still am asked, when people learn I write romance--"do you use your own name?" I answer yes, why not? They might say, because of, you know, what's in those romance books. I tell each person--I have nothing to be ashamed of in my books. Sometimes people just simply don't know what to say---or think.
    Closemindedness is sad, for sure. It makes for a really boring person.
    Thanks for you good comment--I enjoyed it--Celia (You should read "My defense of the romance novel," I wrote a while back for someone's blog.)

  16. Liana--our Half-Price Book Store--a chain--always displays every banned book they can find in their store. They place the big display right at the front door during Banned Books Week, so that when you walk in, they're right there in front of you. I like to go out there just to see what they've chosen.

  17. Hey Celia, thanks for opening this topic to discussion. I don't like books being banned by some institution or government. God gave us a brain and a conscience and that is what it is for ---- making decisions on our own.

    As for our children, we must use good common sense on guiding them in their reading habits. The key word is guidance. Of course, some parents see their roles differently. In the end, the children form their own opinions and taste.