Banning Backfires

29 Sep

Saturday marked the beginning of Banned Book Week. Here at LTWF we’re dedicating the whole week to awareness about banned books. We’ve got a lineup of fantastic articles, culminating in our announcement of our banned books-inspired book of the month for October on Friday. This coming Saturday we will post pictures of ourselves with our favorite banned books, and pictures that our readers send us. One lucky reader will even get a giveaway prize!


by Jenn Fitzgerald


There were only ever two books my mom told me I was too young to read (this was in middle school). They were The Hunt for Red October and Dragonsdawn. So, of course I immediately snuck them off the bookshelf and read them when she wasn’t home. Later, when I was admitting that I’d just finished The Hunt for Red October, I asked her why she’d told me not to read it. She said it was because she thought they were too difficult to understand and too violent. I’d thought it was because they dropped f-bombs, and hadn’t registered the violence as being worse than anything else I’d read. Either way, it had backfired.

That’s the thing—making something forbidden only serves to make it more interesting. You tell a kid: “Hey, you should read this Tom Clancy novel,” they’re probably going to ignore you. But, if you tell them: “Hey, you really shouldn’t read this Tom Clancy novel,” you’re probably going to have to pry it away from them.

Kids are not as innocent or stupid as their parents like to pretend and the books they read in school are usually far milder than PG-13 movies and pop music (Seriously, Lady Gaga, disco stick?). I can understand parents not wanting their children to read a book they find inappropriate, but they don’t have the right to make that determination for someone else’s children. In the end, they are probably only ensuring that more people read whatever it is they find objectionable.

The same motivation holds true for adults. Who hasn’t clicked on a link they were warned against? For example, don’t click this, it’s bad for you.

When people are sheltered from controversial ideas and opinions are suppressed, everyone loses. We lose serious, thoughtful debates and discussions of the real issues that affect people’s lives. Books deal with these topics and often force us to talk about them when otherwise we’d ignore them. I found a quote that expresses this idea more eloquently than I can:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

-John Stewart Mill

We have to allow dissident opinions and controversial works, in libraries, schools and daily life. I’m sure there are plenty of books we can agree it would be ridiculous to ban, like the Harry Potter series. And as long as we continue to fight for these books we will preserve our right to read them. But, we have to extend the right not to be banned even to the things we don’t agree with or find offensive. Otherwise, how will we refute them?


Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.

22 Responses to “Banning Backfires”

  1. Julie Eshbaugh September 29, 2010 at 1:16 AM #

    Great post, Jenn! You are so right when you say that many parents believe their children to be far more innocent than they are. I’ve been working with teens for over 10 years, and I have seen many parents willfully ignore changes in their kids. I also liked your anecdote about the difference between what you thought was “bad” about THFRO and what your mom thought was “bad.” It’s interesting to see how “dangers” can be weighed against each other. Do f-bombs outweigh violence? Does violence outweigh sex? The bottom line is, no one should get to make those decisions for all of us. 🙂

    • svonnah September 29, 2010 at 1:53 PM #

      Ooh, that might prompt a QOTW, Julie! …which is ‘worse’, violence, bad language, or sex?

      • Vanessa September 29, 2010 at 2:36 PM #

        Ooooh, that’s a tough question!

      • September 29, 2010 at 5:16 PM #

        A trick question for me 🙂 A question right back atcha: what’s worse when handled poorly, bad language, sex, or violence?”

        It’s all so subjective that it depends entirely on the author’s goals, skills, and overall perspective.

        • svonnah September 29, 2010 at 9:46 PM #

          Bad sex, because it makes you cringe. Bad violence or language you can chalk up to just being a bad writer, and move on, but writing bad sex means you thought you could, and don’t know you can’t. It’s embarassing.

          • jenn fitzgerald September 30, 2010 at 12:15 AM #

            oh bad sex, it’s just horrifying but can be funny… bad violence could mean really graphic violence, which i would find to be Way worse

      • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:06 PM #

        depends on how it’s handled 🙂

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:06 PM #

      Thanks Julie! It’s funny because I remember being underestimated by my parents and now I can see the same thing with my sister 🙂

  2. authorguy September 29, 2010 at 6:12 AM #

    As Isaac Asimov pointed out in The End of Eternity, when people are able to create their own environments and defuse all challenges, dangers, and opposition before they start, they stagnate.

    My feeling has always been, either they don’t understand or they do. If they don’t, reading the book won’t hurt them, might bore them, and hopefully will bring them to me asking ‘What does this mean?’ If they do, it’s too late for banning to do any good.

    Marc Vun Kannon

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:09 PM #

      Good reference! And I think Arthur C. Clarke explored something similar in Childhood’s End, with the stagnation of humanity after the Overlords’ arrival.

  3. Rowenna September 29, 2010 at 8:23 AM #

    Great post! Excellent point that kids are often savvier than we give them credit for–and able to understand at a younger age more than they’re often expected to. Not that parents shouldn’t be involved–in fact, I think, ironically, a lot of this book banning nonsense comes from parents wanting other people to handle the problem. They’d prefer the library not offer the book than to do the hard work of talking over their expectations of what their kids should be reading and the issues raised by the books. I respect a parent’s decision to monitor what their kids read–just not to enforce that expectation on other families.

    • svonnah September 29, 2010 at 1:51 PM #

      I really like this explanation for book banning.

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:14 PM #

      I totally agree, that a lot of it is parents not wanting to have to actually moniter what their children are reading,

  4. Kat Zhang September 29, 2010 at 8:31 AM #

    Great point about how things become much more alluring for kids if they’re forbidden. Heck, I know *I’ve* just added a number of books to my reading list after seeing they’re once been banned or are banned in some parts of the country 🙂

    (and I didn’t need to click on the link due to WordPress previews, but I totally moused over it ;P)

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:15 PM #

      aahh curse the preview function! I totally forgot about it!

  5. tymcon September 29, 2010 at 12:17 PM #

    I think I got overexposed to cute:S Good post

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:16 PM #

      Lol that was my intention behind the whole post! 😛

  6. Joana September 29, 2010 at 12:50 PM #

    I grew up raised by a mother who was essentially single, because even though they didn’t divorce until I was ten, my dad was pretty much out of the picture by the time I was two. My mother NEVER told me “Don’t read this; you can’t handle it.” In fact, because we had a pretty low income and couldn’t afford things like fancy-shmancy cable and video game systems more recent than the NES, she was thrilled when I’d go to the library and come back with a stack of books to read (when I wasn’t outside smashing my head on rocks after falling off the swing, of course…).

    I never saw the point of book banning. You can take it off library shelves, out of school lesson plans and maybe even off the shelves of indie bookstores where the owner has more power as far as what’s there, but if a kid really wants to read it they’re going to find a way. Kids are more resourceful than grownups give them credit for.

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:17 PM #

      Oh yes, I totally agree, kids will find things, they always find them (can you tell I’m speaking from experience? lol) My parents generally let me read whatever I felt like, which was nice, and is probably why the one time my mom told me not to read something stands out so strongly.

  7. svonnah September 29, 2010 at 1:50 PM #

    Banning totally backfires. I remember when I was young, my mom was reading The Witching Hour by Anne Rice, and she told me that I had to wait until I was older to read it… naturally I snuck into her room and flipped through the middle of the book to find the ‘good stuff’.

    • jenn fitzgerald September 29, 2010 at 7:20 PM #

      Oh totally, and it’s even worse when parents don’t explain their reasons fully. One of my friends accidentally traumatized herself by reading Kiss the Girls as a kid because it was the ONE book her parents told her she couldn’t read, and they didn’t tell her why they didn’t want her to read it.

      • svonnah September 29, 2010 at 9:47 PM #

        My aunt gave me WICKED at a family reunion once cause she didn’t want it, and I started reading it right there on the couch by my grandparents. My face turned red, but I didn’t stop reading, lol.

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