While many have used Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read, others have been raising their own questions. If we are banning books, say these hypothetical people, why not start with Fifty Shades of Grey? Surely of all the books, the controversial “mummy porn” trilogy are the kind of books that deserves being taken off the shelves. Right?
This week at Hypable we have used Banned Books Week to explore the 10 most challenged books of 2011, as well as 10 frequently challenged books that we think you should read anyway. Yet across the internet, people have responded to articles in this vein by asking the same question – “Instead of banning these books, why aren’t we banning Fifty Shades of Grey?”
Let’s be clear. Just because Fifty Shades did not make an appearance on the 2011 Banned Books List doesn’t mean it hasn’t faced bans or challenges. Let’s remember it was only published in June 2011. Since then, many libraries across America have pulled the book from their shelves, not to mention that literal book burning. We can safely assume that come next year’s 2012 list, Fifty Shades will be right up there at the top.
And based on the response to our Casual Vacancy parental guide, we imagine J.K. Rowling’s new novel will be there alongside it, particularly as JKR is already the queen of
wonderful story telling satanic witchcraft.
But now that we’re talking J.K. Rowling, we are all probably thinking “HOW DARE THEY JOKE ABOUT BANNING MY QUEEN” (or possibly “hmm, that new book could have used less vulvae”). Just think back to all the crazy people who tried to stop us from reading Harry Potter, who took it off school reading lists, out of classrooms, and off the shelves at public libraries.
They told us we were worshipping a pagan god, and society would be destroyed, and we were all converting to wicca. All because we crazy fans apparently thought the Harry Potter series was an instruction manual subtitled ‘Satanic Worshipping for Dummies.’
So let’s ponder that. If people are allowed to read Fifty Shades of Grey, what exactly do we think will happen? Maybe we will all turn into S&M fanatics, or start using non-disclosure agreements in our love life, or THE WORLD WILL END (it is 2012, after all).
Or maybe, some people will get to read a book they enjoy.
If you’d think “good riddance” if Fifty Shades (or The Casual Vacancy) was taken off the shelves of your local library, that’s totally fine. But if you want to be able to walk into that same library and borrow Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird or Looking for Alaska, then you have to be okay with walking past Fifty Shades of Grey to get there.
And if the thought of that makes you too uncomfortable, then you have to accept that by restricting someone else’s reading, you are setting the precedent which may result in your favourite book being taken off the shelf.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to read the books they love. When books are taken out of public libraries, use is inherently restricted from people who may not be able to afford their own copy, let alone a Kindle and the e-Book version.
If you’re a parent, by all means monitor what your child is reading, as you might do for a film they want to watch or a video game they want to buy. But don’t stop someone else’s child from reading something that their parent has determined to be appropriate for them.
Maybe you think Fifty Shades of Grey is complete and utter crap, and you wouldn’t even open the front cover unless someone paid you an obscene amount of money, and then promised to wipe it from your mind with the Men in Black Neuralyzer.
Or perhaps you have read Fifty Shades, just for a laugh. Maybe you thought it was the next great love story, or read it with the Twilight soundtrack playing in the background. You may have read it as a unique framing device for a story about maturity, both emotionally and sexually. Maybe you like “mummy porn.” Maybe you just wanted to.
The beauty is, you shouldn’t have to explain your choice to anyone. But you should have a choice. And if you do, that’s all that matters.