What Are Banned Books? (Do I Favor Book Banning?)

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A recent blogging discussion has prompted me to ask the question: What is book banning? I’ve never thought it right to ban a book, but since I’ve recently been accused of doing just that, I thought I’d ask all of you what you think. Do I actually favor book banning? I’m stumped here.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Stephen King’s On Writing.  I didn’t like the book. My main argument was that good books should be determined by a good story and good writing; many best-selling authors’ writing is mediocre, so being a best-seller doesn’t necessarily make the authors good. King’s book seemed to explain how to become a best-seller, not how to write well. I said in the post, “I’ve never read any Stephen King, ” but that should have been, “I’ve never read any Stephen King until now,” as I had just read On Writing.

Well, this week I got a furious comment from a reader. She accused me of being unfair since I had not read Stephen King’s books and suggested a book by him that I should read. I responded by clarifying that I had read a book by him: On Writing. I suppose that I should have also added that the writing in On Writing and the excerpts in On Writing from his other books haven’t convinced me of his superior writing ability, and, as I don’t normally like horror in any form, reading the book she recommended wasn’t on my list. But I only wrote the first part.

Her response to me was even angrier. At first, I deleted her second comment because it seemed to be angry hate mail that was somewhat irrelevant to the discussion. However, I usually wait a day before responding to anything that makes me annoyed or mad; I’ve since reinstated the comment because really, it strikes me now as rather amusing.  Besides, she’s calling me a book banner: how can I then censor her comment? Here’s part of it if you don’t want to bounce over there:

…[F]or an author and a book lover, you argue like a book banner.  Don’t bother replying to this, I am removing this site from my bookmarks.

Here’s my question: Where do I sound like a book banner? What is book banning, by those definitions?

In my post, I made it clear that I didn’t like the particular book or the particular author. I have no intention of reading anything else by him. I suggest we all take a more critical view of the books we read, other than “It’s a best-seller.”

Does encouraging better book choice make me a “book banner?” Does saying “Don’t waste your time with this book!” make me a book banner? If so, then any blogger who reviews a book they dislike is a “book banner!”

So what is book banning? Here are some scenarios. I don’t think they’re all book banning.

  • A librarian decides not purchase a certain book. (I’d say this isn’t book banning. Libraries can only buy so many books a year!)
  • A librarian removes a certain book from circulation after parents complain. (Yes, this seems like book banning. If parents don’t like a book, they shouldn’t read it or they could encourage their children not to read it. That would be parenting a young child, not banning a book; a librarian removing a book would be making it unavailable to others. But even then, parents and children can find the book elsewhere. It’s still not unreadable.)
  • Parents ask their young child not to read a certain book. (I’d say this isn’t book banning. Parents have the right to encourage children to read books with situations and morals appropriate for their age, and, most importantly, their maturity level.)
  • Parents forbid their older child from reading a certain book. (I think this is border-line book banning. Older kids are able to choose for themselves. Forbidden status just makes it enticing anyway. But, older children will read what they want to read, regardless of parental influence.)

What do you think? What does book banning actually mean? Does not wanting to read Stephen King ever again make me a book banner? Apparently, I need your help, because I didn’t realize I was a book banner!

I concede that I shouldn’t critique authors when I haven’t read everything they’ve written, although I’m sure I’ll keep doing it, as do other bloggers. I suppose it is wrong. But, regardless, I still stand by what I said about Stephen King, and I won’t be reading his horror.

To beth Powers who has made it clear she won’t ever read this (and to anyone else offended by me):  As I don’t normally read or like modern fiction, popular or not, I suspect we have different tastes in books. I occasionally read modern fiction, but it takes a really good one (and especially a good story) for me to really like it. There are literally hundreds of book bloggers out there that love modern genre fiction and review it regularly; I wish you luck in finding a blog better in line with your preferences. I’m sorry Rebecca Reads wasn’t a good match for you!

To other book bloggers: As a sub question, what do you do when you receive “hate mail” comments? Do you leave them untouched? Do you try to respond politely? Do you moderate them or edit them? Would that be “comment banning”? Is that wrong on your own personal webpage?

Reviewed on September 22, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • Wow. I hate it when people come onto blogs, especially a blog where you have clearly never claimed to be the one and only definitive opinion on books, and write hateful things. It is one thing to intelligently question an opinion or statement. It is totally different to lead a personal attack (what does Sarah Palin have to do with anything?). Here is what I think (just my opinion!):
    1. You are entitled to your opinion. This is YOUR blog. You are also entitled to choose which comments you post, as, again, this is YOUR blog. It think it says good things about your character that you did show her comments – it shows that you are not afraid of other people’s opinions (as she so obviously is).
    2. You are not even close to banning a book. You don’t have that power (unless you are a librarian or bookstore owner or legislator or supreme court judge and I don’t know it). You are simply saying, “Here is my opinion. Do with it what you will.” Just for clarification, Merriam Webster defines a ban as “to prohibit especially by legal means.” I guess I missed the part where you did that or even suggested it.
    3. If she doesn’t want to read your blog, she doesn’t have to. No need for personal attacks. It’s just plain immature.

  • I have to agree with ak — wow! I went back and read the Steven King post just to see what the critique was and it seemed like an overreaction to me. I haven’t had any comments like that on my blog, but I think what you did is exactly appropriate. People are entitled to their opinions, so let them speak through their comments. But you’re in no way a book banner just by saying you don’t think people should read a book. Like ak said, you simply don’t have the power to do that. I don’t even think the post implied you thought no one should ever read this book, just that you didn’t like it and wouldn’t suggest it to anyone. So yeah, I would just try to let it go, although I know it can be really hard to just let mean comments wash over you (at least it always is for me).

  • As a reader, you have every right to read or not read WHATEVER you want. Isn’t that the point of not banning in the first place? As a reader, you also have the right to any type of opinion you want. The beauty of it all is that not everybody is going to have the same opinion. The points that you made are very valid. Banned Books Week starts this Friday and I’ve already drafted my own post about it and you bring up some of the same points.

    As far as comment leaving, it helps if you have a comment policy posted on your blog. I’ve read several blogging articles about comment policies and cane send you some links if interested. I don’t have one myself yet but it’s been on my to do list forever. Having a comment policy gives you the freedom to moderate comments without feeling guilty over it. Readers of your blog should feel that no matter what they have to say, they can say it. Letting it show displays that you’re not intimidated and can take the heat. It’s not fun though. I’ve been called a prude once. Oh well . . .

  • “You argue like a book banner” makes no sense. You were expressing your opinion. You were un-recommending Stephen King, yes, but also allowing people the freedom to take or leave your advice. A book banner would want to burn every Stephen King book in existence so that nobody nowhere ever had the chance to read him, just because they declare it should be so.

    That comment was completely unfair. You know, I think you and I have very different taste in books, and I often find myself disagreeing with you, but that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading your blog. You express yourself intelligent and politely and you are more than entitled to say what you think.

    I haven’t had to deal with comments of this kind so far. The only times when I had to face a bit of hostility, it was the polite kind, and I dealt with it in the same way.

    I think that in this case I’d have done the same thing you did.

  • Okay I went back and read the comments, too. Wow. How weird! Now I can see what her point was trying to be through the angry words – it may not really be fair to judge his fiction if you haven’t read any of it. Okay. I can see that. Perhaps if she had stated her opinion nicely? Posed a reasonable objection? I can see someone being a little upset by the judgement. However, like people have already stated in the comments above, you have the right to read whatever you want, and say whatever you want on YOUR BLOG. If you don’t want to read King’s horror or sci-fi or other fiction, that’s perfectly fine. “Book-Banner” just seems like a bizarre label to stick on you because you don’t like a certain genre. And it’s a really weird leap of logic from your reply to her and her second comment. I don’t really understand what she was even trying to say in that one.

    I personally read classics for the most part. I generally ignore modern fiction and genre fiction because 99% of what I’ve read, I don’t like. I have no particular plans to read, say, Joyce Carol Oats, because I’ve simply got no interest in her. I wouldn’t say that makes me a book-banner. Unless book-banning involves making decisions for yourself, and that argument is just flat-out silly. Book-banning is a legal thing. Or like removing books from libraries and schools in order to prevent people from reading them. Recommending or not-recommending is NOT banning. I don’t think anyone reading this blog will be UNABLE to read On Writing if they wanted to. You haven’t done anything to PREVENT us from picking up the book. One day, I might read this book. I’ve heard from another friend that it’s good, and there are a rare few of King’s books that I think are well written (like one of his non-horror books, Insomnia). YOU CAN’T STOP ME FROM READING IT! 😉 haha

    Regarding comments, if we get comments on our group blog that are spam, pure hate-mail, or filled with the sorts of stuff we don’t want our kids to read over our shoulders, we will delete them. While we don’t have a comment policy, in our review policy we state the same basic guidelines we expect our members to follow. So far, we haven’t had to deal with anything except some spam comments, thank goodness.

  • Natasha’s idea of a comment policy is a good one! Until BBAW, I never really had any negativity thrown at me. But I guess when you invite that many people to your door, it’s bound to come.

    In regards to book banning, that’s just a ridiculous argument. You’re not stopping anyone else from reading it for crying out loud. 🙂

  • Wow! Someone is very attached to Stephen King! I remember once that someone wrote on my blog that they thought it was great that I even reviewed books I didn’t like. It never occurred to me NOT to review those books, as well. Isn’t that the point of book reviewing–to say what you liked or didn’t like about a book/author?

  • I just wanted to reply to your subquestion: I’ve actually never gotten an hateful comments (knock on wood!) but if I did I’d just delete them. It’s not worth my energy to acknowledge and/or argue with people like that. If they were guests in my home, I’d ask them to leave, so I don’t see any problem with kicking them off of my blog.

  • Wow, so many responses in just a few hours! How can I begin to respond to all the great points you bring up?!

    I do want to clarify to all of you that I don’t have a problem with her main argument: that I should read his books (or some others) before saying that he’s not a good writer. I agree (even though I’m not going to read his books anytime soon). What I had a problem with is her tone and personal attack, as some of you also noticed.

    ak, yes, the personal attack was quite odd. Even more amusing to me because I’ve been out of the country for more than a year so I really don’t know anything about Sarah Palin (or the other candidates for that matter)! I know I can delete comments but it feels weird since she was telling me I was a book banner: wouldn’t censoring her comment just make her point?

    Kim, I pretty much have let go already; I just kept wondering about book banning and wondering how on earth I was banning books. I’m glad the consensus is that I’m not!

    Natasha, I like the idea of a comment policy. How does one do that with out sounding mean?

    Nymeth, I’m glad our difference of opinion doesn’t turn you off from my blog! I certainly don’t want people to avoid me, but I’m not going to hold back if I don’t like what I read! Thanks for your thoughts.

    Amanda, LOL! Go for it! I dare you to read it. I, on the other hand, probably will read Joyce Carol Oates but never again Stephen King. Isn’t it great that there are books out there for everyone?!

    Amy, Lisa, and SmallWorld Reads, thanks for the reassurance that I’m not banning books! I intend to keep reviewing books I don’t like!

  • Yikes! No, you do not have to read every single book ever written by an author to know whether or not you like them or not. I decided I didn’t like Henry James after one book. That’s my right. I’m not saying you shouldn’t! And that’s the difference. Book banners will tell people what they shouldn’t read. And of course, parents have the right to say what their children read. I’d just encourage the parent to read it first before making that decision.

    As for comments, I haven’t had any really angry ones. I think I’d leave them up because more than likely the commenter will regret leaving it and it will make them look like an a*se. Not that I want my readers to feel like that but if you’re going to say something like that it’s going to stay for all the world to see! Unless, of course, they ask to have it removed (haven’t we all said something we wish we could take back?)

    I’m really rambling now!lol!

  • Eva, I agree, “It’s not worth my energy to acknowledge and/or argue with people like that.” I didn’t intend to respond to her in this case; I just started wondering if maybe I had missed some aspect of book banning…..

    Chris, thanks for your insights!

  • Rebecca – I’ll email you some links that I have to some articles about comment policies. It’s as simple as putting a link in your sidebar to a comment policy page. Honestly, I doubt many would read it but it does give you the go ahead to moderate comments without the guilt. Basically stating that you can edit out bad language, comments that don’e contribute to the conversation, etc.

    Now that I think of it, I actually have blocked about 6-7 IP addresses from even being able to leave comments on my blog. Mostly from what I believe are adolescent teenagers having a little to much fun leaving vulgar comments.

  • “I concede that I shouldn’t critique authors when I haven’t read everything they’ve written”

    I don’t agree with this at all! You can read a representative sample and come to conclusions. Reading excerpts can give you a very clear idea of the quality of an authors writing. You don’t have to read their entire oeuvre. Besides, Stephen King writes popular trash no matter how many people are entertained by it. I don’t need to read all 7 million Danielle Steel novels to know that they’re garbage…the fact that they’re are 7 million of them tells me everything I need to know.
    The commenter was having a major failure of logic. Don’t doubt yourself so easily.

  • Natasha, thanks for the great articles! Mandi, yes, I agree for both of those authors, BUT if I’m complaining about an author, I SUPPOSE it’s not too fair if I’ve never read it….As Angry Commenter pointed out, how would I feel if someone judged my writing without reading it? Like I said, though, I intend to keep judging books by their authors…

  • Of course what you said in your original post is not book banning. Book banning is the act of having books removed from a library or bookstore so that no one can have access to it because one person or group objects to the book for some reason. The comment by the poster is just silly.

  • Rebecca – I agree with the four scenarios you post (relating to “banning” books from children’s libraries). This is the guideline I follow – I steer my younger children away from books with themes I don’t feel are appropriate for them. My older two (ages 10 and 12) have “carte blanche” to read what interests them. If a book they’re reading has a theme that I can pull subtlely into a conversation, I do it. I wrote a bit about this just today, on my “Tuesday Thingers” post. Parents (not the content of a book!) are ultimately responsible for parenting; guide good choices, don’t force them!

  • Hi Rebecca,

    Wow! Isn’t it crazy how something that you think is going to be totally innocuous (like saying you didn’t like an author’s writing) can turn into something else altogether! While I totally agree with everybody else who says you are certainly NOT a book banner just because you decided Stephen King was not for you after reading only one of his books, I would like to suggest that perhaps Beth (your angry reader) meant something different. She said you *argue* like a book banner. I think she was referring to your response to her comment, not so much your post in general. She made a fair point in her first comment (that perhaps you should read some of King’s other work before writing him off (no pun intended!) as a writer), even though the tone of it might have been a bit rough. You responded with a one-line reply saying that you HAD read one of his books. I think for her this was the equivalent of someone saying, “I read X and didn’t like that it had some dirty words in it so all of this author’s other writing is sure to be vulgar and therefore not worth exploring”…which seems to be the way book banners think (maybe not all, but surely some).

    Of course, this is pure speculation; nobody except Beth really knows what she meant or why she was so angry, but I thought I would throw out my interpretation.

    I still think her second comment was a bit over the top, and she could have taken the opportunity to engage in a more intelligent discussion rather than banning your blog from her reading list for having one “bad” argument! Too bad she’s not still reading-she sparked a good conversation!

  • Yeah, you’re not crazy. You’re not a book banner, and I’m pretty sure anyone who reviews books will occasionally (or frequently) express a negative view of a book.

    I’ve never had a real critical comment on my blog, but I guess if it was another blogger I’d come to know and respect I’d handle it differently than if it was some random stranger.

  • Dawn, I totally agree! Parents should moderate, not be forced.

    Dreamybee, Thank you so much for your clarification! That makes complete sense to me. I certainly didn’t mean to “argue” like a “book banner” but if that’s how “book banner”s argue, I guess I did! I don’t know much about book banning, so there you go. As for the one line, I responded too soon and should have thought more about a longer response. But, I guess I didn’t think she’d be so “angry” about it.

    Kim L, I know people don’t agree with me (I’m opinionated), and that was my first angry comment. I guess it’s my blog, so I should figure out what I should do for the future….Other than blog about it 😉

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