- "Librarians Defend Teen Gore," by Tessa Berenson, FrumForum, 7 June 2011.
"I did not expect this degree of hysteria," Gurdon said. "And I really, really did not expect that people who work in the book industry would be so seemingly incapable of understanding a simple argument. As a critic, I am describing what is in the literature, and the fact that it is different now than it was, say, 30 years ago. These are cultural developments that are worth acknowledging and worth noticing."
"I come out 'anti-reading' because I have the temerity to criticize what is in some of the books that are being sold to teenagers," Gurdon retorted. Indeed she believes that one of the roots of the problem in the book industry lies in incomplete and uninformative reviews: "One of the things that I think is missing from a lot of these reviews is that they very, very seldom address some of the more disturbing content that is in books."
David Frum of FrumForum, that was a truly outstanding blog post. Thank you very much to you and Tessa Berenson.
Here is the article that started this kerfuffle:
- "Darkness Too Visible; Contemporary Fiction for Teens is Rife with Explicit Abuse, Violence and Depravity. Why Is This Considered a Good Idea?," by Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 4 June 2011.
- "School Excoriates Book Reviews that Fail to Disclose 'Graphic Sexual Details' in Books for Children; Lush by Natasha Friend is 'Wildly Inappropriate' for Certain Children"
- "It's Not Censorship, It's Parenting! -- Best Explanation Ever for What's Wrong With the American Library Association and its Effect on Public School Libraries"
- "In Defense of Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children's Book Reviewer," by Janice Harayda, One-Minute Book Reviews, 6 June 2011.
NOTE ADDED JUNE 9 2011:
Meghan Cox Gurdon was interviewed on public radio. Listen to her here:
- "Is Teen Fiction Too Dark?," by Kerri Miller interviewing Meghan Cox Gurdon, Minnesota Public Radio, 9 June 2011.
Young adult literature is a booming genre in the publishing industry, but one reviewer says we should be concerned about how dark and lurid the offerings for adolescent readers have become.
Also, this blog post is getting multiple hits per minute thanks to my comment appended to:
- "Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood," by Sherman Alexie, The Wall Street Journal, 9 June 2011.
Entirely relevant is this from an extremely popular librarian blog and all the comments by the librarians thereunder:
- "Surreptitious Censorship,” by Will Manley, Will Unwound, 8 June 2011.
Here’s an issue that I’ve often wondered about but never written about. It involves intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom is often presented as a black and white issue. You are either a supporter of intellectual freedom or you are a censor. There seems to be no middle ground.
Why are librarians so afraid of having a book challenged? Patrons or groups of patrons who challenge library books are simply exercising their First Amendment right to the "petition their government." What's wrong with that? Intellectual freedom issues should be hashed out in the public arena, not behind the closed doors of some librarian’s office.
[And here's a sample comment, this from "Deb"]:
Back in the early 90s there were great debates about having public Internet in libraries. One of the favorite arguments put forth by librarians at the time was that libraries needed to have and control public access to the Internet so that they could make sure that people got their information from "good" sites – i.e. librarian approved. There were discussions of how libraries could limit access to selected sites the way that they limited selection of reference books to those vetted and approved by "experts" – i.e. peer reviewed and published by the correct presses. It wasn't about intellectual freedom, it was about selection, and making sure that we protected our public and users from the crap that was out there. Then Congress decided to force Internet filtering and Bam! it was suddenly an intellectual freedom issue, and now libraries were supposed to let anyone access anything, including providing porn to children and pedophiles as protected first amendment speech. Of course it's hypocrisy. The ALA as an organization is the embodiment of hypocrisy. And yes, I am a card-carrying member. So I, too, am a hypocrite, because I know that I will never change the organization, and that they don’t work for me, my library, or the community we serve. But they are the only game in town. Better the devil you know than no devil at all. I have always considered it hypocritical to market ourselves to families and entice children in with storytimes, etc.; then tell parents that we don't recognize parental authority and that we will provide x-rated movies to their kids in the name of intellectual freedom. Personally, I do not think ALA and OIF know what this term means.
As to selection – it is necessary because unlike the Library of Congress, most libraries do not have the time, the money, the staff, or the space to acquire every item ever published. So, we have to pick and choose. Of course personal taste enters into it. We went to library school and took classes in how to do collection development, and we have convinced the people that hired us that we know more than the average bear about how to pick books for the library. But what it comes down to is, we pick the ones that we think will be a good fit, and our personal tastes have everything to do with it. Even if we are deliberately picking something that we personally dislike, we still consider our own reaction to it before we decide. That's called being human. Unless and until we automate the acquisitions process and let computers pick the books, we are always going to have human emotional content in our selection process. Heck, even when the computers do start doing selection for us, we will probably end up with the emotional responses of the guy who programmed the computer.
If you like these kinds of issues, please consider subscribing to my SafeLibraries blog or to Will Manley's Will Unwound.
NOTE ADDED 22 JUNE 2011:
|A Disobedient Girl,|
by Ru Freeman
- "I'm With Meghan Cox Gurdon," by Ru Freeman, The Huffington Post, 21 June 2011, bold and red emphasis mine, italics and hyperlinks in original:
As the parent of three avid readers, I agree with Meghan Cox Gurdon's point that what is considered "banning" in the book trade is known in the parenting world as doing our job. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal this week, she writes:
It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person's life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks "censorship!"
Books transform lives. That is why we write. We write through the pain or memory of our own experience, we write through the gratitude or sorrow of others. Every time we put finger to keyboard we write to tell a story that has the potential to change a person's life. If we didn't have that expectation, the effort would be simply a form of public masturbation. Which brings us to the question of how any book that is filled with gore that runs the gamut from rape to incest to addiction to murder and every variance in between, without any of those things being absolutely essential to the development of character or plot, can be lauded as being a solid addition to the life of the mind for a child.
How can any writer claim, as Sherman Alexie claims, that he writes the particular kinds of books that he writes for teenagers not because he wants to "protect them" because, he says, it is "far too late for that," but to "give them weapons -- in the form of words and ideas -- that will help them fight their monsters." Mr. Alexie, gushes that he "writes in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."
Well. This country has sent thousands of its youth to die, and still some of us control-freak adults get off our posteriors and do our best to prevent the next "one" kid who is about to be turned into a killing machine. What we don't do is present the kids around us with handbooks for how to become better murderers. This country has spent its money substituting the regurgitation of facts for knowledge and still some of us interfering know-it-all adults lobby our schools to do things differently. We certainly don't sit on the sidelines and congratulate our little oafs for just, you know, doing what kids these days are "supposed to be doing." There are pederasts and psychopaths alive and kicking in the ether that is so easily accessed by our kids, but some of us adults believe it is a good thing to teach our kids how to navigate that world without exposing them to the pathologies of depraved adults.
What we don't do is give them an alphabetized, cross reference index that points them to each heinous website. And, just like the patron of the Boone County Library in Kentucky (who tried to get Cheryl Rainfield's book Scars off the shelves) points out, and this is close to my heart, we don't give a young anorexic girl a great ball-by-ball account of how to starve herself to death. Because, you see, 40-60 percent of high school girls have considered that particular form of suicide and 2.3 percent of them have died from it while undergoing treatment, which leaves a nice healthy figure of those who were never diagnosed and never received treatment.
Kids one block removed from my neighborhood in wealthy suburban Philadelphia go to bed hungry and, trust me, having been a hungry kid, I don't think they are begging to read about starvation. I have been the child at the receiving end of violence and I would give my life to protect my own from such violence, and that includes the violence of the words and images that, once they take up residence in our heads, cannot be erased. I can assure you that, growing up, I did not sit around wishing I could read about the hardships I was undergoing. No. I read Joyce, Blyton, Donne, Harper Lee and Shakespeare. I held on to longing, fairytale, a human communion with whatever it was that I recognized as the divine and the beauty of language. I read about snow and Santa Claus and sailing boats, having adventures and bringing down capitalist bastards a la Yury Olesha in The Three Fat Men.
Suffering is just that, suffering. There is nothing glorious or noteworthy about it. If you've truly experienced it, it hurts. Bad. And the last thing you ever want to do is to inflict it upon a child. The last thing that one should do for a child who has suffered is to introduce them to a little more of the same. Here's to all those adults who, having undertaken to have children of their own, choose to care for all children by keeping their faith with the real-life dream of childhood, who try each day to hold the coordinates steady for them as the adults in our lives tried their best to hold them steady for us a long time ago. Ms. Gurdon should take a bow for having the guts to tell it like it is.
NOTE ADDED 27 JUN 2011:
Meghan Cox Gurdon has written again! Look how she tells the truth about the American Library Association and its false claims of "danger" used to force its will on communities! Look how she illustrates how the "free speech" people use ad hominem attack freely—I see this all the time:
- "My 'Reprehensible' Take on Teen Literature; Raise Questions About Self-Mutilation and Incest As a Young-Adult Theme and All Hell Breaks Loose," by Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2011, emphasis mine.
If the American Library Association were inclined to burn people in effigy, I might well have gone up in smoke these past few days. ALA members, mostly librarians and other book-industry folk, are concluding their annual conference today in New Orleans, and it's a fair bet that some of them are still fuming about an article of mine that appeared in these pages earlier this month.
The essay, titled "Darkness Too Visible," discussed the way in which young-adult literature invites teenagers to wallow in ugliness, barbarity, dysfunction and cruelty. By focusing on the dark currents in the genre, I was of course no more damning all young-adult literature than a person writing about reality TV is damning all television, but from the frenzied reaction you would have thought I had called for the torching of libraries.
Within hours of the essay's appearance it became a leading topic on Twitter. Indignant defenders of young-adult literature called me "idiotic," "narrow-minded," "brittle," "ignorant," "shrewish," "irresponsible" and "reprehensible." Authors Judy Blume and Libba Bray suggested that I was giving succor to book-banners. Author Lauren Myracle took the charge a stage further, accusing me of "formulating an argument not just against 'dark' YA [young-adult] books, but against the very act of reading itself." The ALA, in a letter to The Journal, saw "danger" in my argument, saying that it "encourages a culture of fear around YA literature."
The odd thing is that I wasn't tracking some rare, outlier tendency. As book reviewer Janice Harayda observed, commenting on my essay: "Anyone who writes about children's books regularly knows that [Mrs. Gurdon] hasn't made up this trend. . . . Books, like movies, keep getting more lurid."
But, to some, those are desirable destinations. Many of the angriest responses to my essay came from people who believe that a major purpose of young-adult fiction is therapeutic. "YA Saves!" was the rallying hashtag of thousands of Twitter posters who chose to express their ire in 140 characters or less.
It is true that so-called problem novels may be helpful to children in anguished circumstances. The larger question is whether books about rape, incest, eating disorders and "cutting" (self-mutilation) help to normalize such behaviors for the vast majority of children who are merely living through the routine ordeals of adolescence.
There are real-world reasons for caution. For years, federal researchers could not understand why drug- and tobacco-prevention programs seemed to be associated with greater drug and tobacco use. It turned out that children, while grasping the idea that drugs were bad, also absorbed the meta-message that adults expected teens to take drugs. Well-intentioned messages, in other words, can have the unintended consequence of opening the door to expectations and behaviors that might otherwise remain closed.
In the outpouring of response to my essay, I've been told that I fail to understand the brutal realities faced by modern teens. Adolescence, I've been instructed, is a prolonged period of racism, homophobia, bullying, eating disorders, abusive sexual episodes, and every other manner of unpleasantness.
Author Sherman Alexie asked, in a piece for WSJ.com titled "Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood": "Does Mrs. Gurdon honestly believe that a sexually explicit YA novel might somehow traumatize a teen mother? Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?"
NOTE ADDED 8 JULY 2011:
Wow! Get a load of these new stories/podcasts, particularly the apology from author Lauren Myracle:
- "Questions We Should Be Asking About YA Lit," by Rahma Krambo, Mystic Coffee, 7 July 2011.
- "A Spade By Any Other Name," by Thomas M, Liberry Jam, 7 July 2011.
- "Is Young Adult Fiction Too Dark?," by Tracey Matisak interviewing Meghan Cox Gurdon and Maureen Johnson, WWHY Radio Times, 6 July 2011, podcast available.
- "YA Author Apologizes To 'Wall Street Journal' Critic," by Neal Conan interviewing Meghan Cox Gurdon and Lauren Myracle, NPR Talk of the Nation, 6 July 2011, podcast available.
"I lashed out at you," Myracle said. "When people get outraged they get angry, and then it becomes this weird argument instead of a discussion. ... I should welcome people who aren't on the same page with love and generosity. ... And I didn't with you. And I'm sorry."
- "Gratuitous Violence in YA Literature," by Ru Freeman, Ru Freeman Author & Activist, 2 July 2011.
To say children benefit from exposure to extreme violence in reality, or imagery? Yep, bullshit. Suffering is just suffering. Bullshit is just bullshit no matter what patriotic utterance is wrapped around it.
And let me remind you of oldies but goodies:
- "Page Burners: Sex and the Teenage Girl; What Goes On Between the Covers Is Now What Goes On Between the Covers of New Fiction Aimed at Young Adults," by Tania Padgett, Newsday, 4 April 2006.
- "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things," by Naomi Wolf, The New York Times, 12 March 2006. And this article is an example that claims that only conservatives oppose inappropriate books are merely red herrings.
- "Why Teachers Love Depressing Books; Essay; 'A Good Book Should Make You Cry,'" by Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review, 22 August 2004, p12(L) col 01.
NOTE ADDED 10 JULY 2011: