It’s here - Banned Book Week officially begins 9/30 ends 10/6 and this year is its 30th anniversary! Amazing to see some of the books that have made the list – looking back, it seems ridiculous those books were included. Now for Ruthie’s point of view, always interesting!!
Today kicks off the thirtieth annual Banned Books Week, an event sponsored by the American Library Association to highlight “the value of free and open access to information.” According to the ALA, “Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Check out the ALA’s timeline, Thirty Years of Liberating Literature, for an amazing overview of some of the most banned books in the past three decades. The book highlighted for 1984 is The Color Purple, which I recently wrote about as containing one of my favorite romance couples, even though it’s not technically a romance novel and the romance in question is between two women. The Color Purple has been challenged for its “sexual and social explicitness” and its “troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.”
Troubling ideas. Yes, let’s not have too many of those in our novels. Let’s not allow our fiction to trouble us. We might . . . what? I guess we might try to change something.
Books are powerful things, as people who try to ban them well know. They influence our worldviews. They influence our world.
A quick skim of the most-challenged books for 2011 tells a similar story of books being attacked for their excessive explicitness — their failure to be squeamish in raising important issues of race, society, and sex. Just look at the “reasons” given for these books’ being banned: “offensive language,” “sexually explicit,” “unsuited to age group,” “nudity,” “insensitivity.”
Some of the books are clearly being targeted for the political opinions their social commentary supports, such as Barbara Ehrenreich’s fascinating Nickel and Dimed. Others are called “racist” when what they actually are is “honest about race” — the prime examples being Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
But this is a romance column. Why should we care? Romance is an escapist genre. Romance novels are rarely banned. For one thing, they are rarely read in schools, and schools are where the book-banning conversation tends to focus. For another, romance novels are not about “troubling ideas.” They are about love and monogamy, cementing the status quo, keeping women in their place. They are about traditional gender roles and white-bread middle-class social mores. Aren’t they?
I don’t think so. I think romance novels are about human relationships and the ways in which love can catalyze positive change — both in people’s lives and in the world. They are not always “troubling,” but they can be. They can be about a man and a woman, or two men, or two women, or a woman and two men, or a woman and five satyrs. They can transcend race or age or species. They can explore issues of social injustice and personal trauma, and they can do it explicitly, with nudity, offensive language, and insensitivity. Or they can not. It all depends on what the novelist wants to do with her creation.
Romance novels are, like other novels, a venue for expression. And as a romance novelist, I want to stand up this week with the other writers, readers, librarians, and booksellers who support the freedom to seek and express ideas, no matter how troubling.
Let’s let the writers write the books and the readers read them. Let’s let our fiction soothe us and offer us an escape into another world. Let’s let it deliver our fantasies and our dreams. But let’s also let it trouble us. Because, as any romance novel can teach you, dealing with trouble is how we grow as human beings.
What are your thoughts about banning books? Is this something we need to do or should we let people make their own reading choices?
About the Author:
Ruthie Knox graduated from Grinnell College as an English and history double major, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in modern British history that she’s put to remarkably little use. An earlier incarnation of Ride with Me won the 2011 Maggies Award for best contemporary series romance, as well as the 2011 Romance Junkies/Carina Press contest.
Book Copy for ROOM AT THE IN, part of the Naughty and Nice Bundle:
Carson Vance couldn’t wait to get out of Potter Falls, but now that he’s back to spend Christmas with his ailing father, he must face all the people he left behind . . . like Julie Long, whose heart he broke once upon a time. Now the proprietor of the local inn, Julie is a successful, seductive, independent woman—everything that Carson’s looking for. But despite several steamy encounters under the mistletoe, Julie refuses to believe in happily ever after. Now Carson must prove to Julie that he’s back for good—and that he wants her in his life for all the holidays to come.