Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Banning, Burning and Boycotting Books

What do you do when a book challenges your entire system of belief? Thank it? Sometimes. What if it's a bad book--just an absolute steaming pile of crap? Laugh at it? Probably. But what if it's something else entirely? Do you ban it, burn it, or boycott it? 

One one hand, I think that books, however badly written they might be, are an ideal, and that any attack of them is a symbolic attack on peoples' freedom to express themselves. On the other hand, a lot of writers are dickheads. 

I have a whole shelf of books that were banned, burned or boycotted at one time. The classics, you know, ranging from everything from Sade to Harry Potter. Now there are two books you don't often see sharing self space. And some of them I love (hello, Harry!) and some of them I feel squicky even looking at (really, Sade, really?). But here's the thing. I still believe that books have an intrinsic value outside of their controversy. In the case of Harry Potter, it's because they're awesome. And in the case of Sade, it's because once you can get past the didn't-have-a-word-for-how-sick-this-was-before-him stuff, the philosophy of it is fascinating. 

But there's one book I really wish I hadn't bought. And it's a great book, it really, really is, but I find the author's views on gay people and gay rights so personally repellent and hate-filled, that, had I known them at the time, I wouldn't have chosen to give him any of my money. 

And, like I said, this is a great book, and will probably be a great movie. 

Would I ban this book? No.
Would I burn this book? Hell no. 
But would I boycott it? Personally, yes. And in a heartbeat. 

The key word here is personally

Read what you want. Buy what you want. And draw the line in the sand where it needs to be for you. 


Are there any books you won't read because of an author's beliefs or behaviour?  


  1. I started reading Ender's Game, but I got distracted a few pages in. I guess I'll have to finish it so I can throw in my two cents. ;) While I'm all in favor of having opinions, as soon as you voice them in an offensive way, it's a problem.

    1. Exactly, Madeline. Which I think leaves the public with one option -- protest with your wallet and find another author to support with your hard-earned money.

  2. Like you, anything by Orson Scott Card is permanently off my list. I wouldn't blame anyone for reading them, but I find his anti-gay activities too abhorrent to support him in any way. But if someone tried to ban his books, I'd still protest.

    1. Agreed, JE! Personally. Orson Scott Card is a real world litmus test for how far my ideals about free speech go, because, as you say, I find his opinions absolutely abhorrent. And while I would never tell anyone not to read his books because of them, I'll happily tell them why (if I hadn't already read it!) I would not pay for them.

  3. He's always been very forward in putting his religious beliefs in his books. As to your point about how to deal with sentiments you don't agree with, there's always been a strong feeling among all groups that the best way to deal with it is prevent it being available to anyone (especially children).

    But pretending things don't exist never works, be it sex or drugs or whatever. You can't control the world (although some try mighty hard) you can only control yourself. And you can't teach children how to avoid the things out there that you might not approve of, you can only teach them how to handle problems, temptations and bad influences. Of course that means you have to know how to deal with them first, which is where the trouble usually starts.


    1. Hi Mood! I've never believed in pretending that sentiments I don't agree with should be hidden away. I believe the best response is always a well-reasoned counter-argument (particularly with children). Banning or burning books with ideas I find abhorrent is just answering one crime with another.

      I do believe in boycotting though, but that's a personal decision and one that I wouldn't try to force on anyone else.



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