Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dogs & Books & Adult Censorship

I seem to be the last one to weigh in the controversy surrounding this year's Newberry Winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, in which author Susan Patron had the gall to use the word "scrotum" when referring to that particular part of a dog's anatomy.

Now librarians throughout America have united to express their disapproval of Ms. Patron's word choice and claim that because of it the book is not welcome in their libraries. And this being America, where we all have opinions , other librarians, writers and publishers have leaped to defend her. (For more details, I link to Gwenda Bond's blog entry on the topic which then links to everyone whose opinion is actually informed, as opposed to knee-jerk.)

Of course, my opinion that the librarians are being childish for twittering over a perfectly normal anatomical term. But I also have to admit that I wouldn't want to read this book aloud to a group of snickering ten-year-olds either. Glad it's not my personal dilemma.

The brouhaha has made me think even more about a topic that I've been thinking about a lot ever since I went to the Children's Lit Lunch a couple of weeks ago. There I met many lovely librarians who were all universal in their desire to purchase books that did not have sex, swearing, or any thing else squiggy in them, and who implored me to keep all three categories out of my books.

But how do you write a book about a fourteen year old girl without at least skirting the edge of these issues? Fourteen year old girls do think about sex, and they do swear, and they do squiggy things. In Flora Segunda, our heroine is a bit preoccupied with other matters to confront the second topic, and I dealt with the first by making up my own profanity. But there is a lot of squigginess in the book that perhaps those lovely librarians would not have liked one bit.

And Flora Redux (which I just finished a couple of weeks ago) deals more with sex, albeit in a round about non-graphic non-overt tasteful way--she is fourteen for pigface's sake! There's swearing too, lots and lots of swearing (not by Flora), but I had already decided to handle that via Gramatica-type substitution. And like Book I, Book 2 is much with the squigginess, Califa being a very a squiggy place, after all.

Initially, my talk with the librarians left me panicked. Would no library take my books if I didn't censor myself? Must you decide to be true to your Art or write to your audience--or rather the gatekeepers who stand between you and audience? Well, in the end, of course, I realize that you must write the best book you can, be true to the characters and true to your audience, and let the librarians do what they will. A false book is much much worse than a banned book.

Still, I swear I won't ever use the word "scrotum." Maybe that will save me.


Paul Witcover said...

Pigface pogostick psychopomp! I think you should take this as a chaallenge and from now on work "scrotum" into your books in one way or another: backwards, as a character name (mutorcs); as an acrostic from the first letters of a sappy poem:

She walks in beauty like the night.
Clouds drift across the moon
regarding her from that height...
O, can such beauty long endure
The contrast with earthly blight?
Ugliness be banished!
My lady is not a fright!

Er, or something like that...

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Self-censorship is still censorship and in many ways is more insidious than being confronted with people who would ban a book. I think it is much more dangerous to decide not to be controversial.

Keep in mind that all librarians are not like the ones quoted concerning this book. Most librarians cringe at the idea that a book would be removed or not put in a collection without looking at the book's value as a whole.

At the Pelham Library, Fonthill, Ontario, we are actually promoting the reading of banned books and are inviting people around the globe to take the "Banned Book Challenge."