Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jodi Picoult: Banned Author

Once more, I write to focus on the collective work of a certain author; in this case, one of a very different mold (or maybe not) than Pat Conroy, and certainly one of a different mold than George Orwell. Jodi Picoult seemingly writes for a specific audience- women, mostly- yet her books tackle tough subjects, and ones that anyone- male, female, young, old, etc.- can relate to or be touched by.

The term "tough subjects" is no overstatement; Picoult's books deal with topics such as suicide, teen pregnancy, depression, violence in schools and a child's right to her own body. Because of this, they have been censored in various school districts. Parents have even confronted Picoult publicly on their opinion of her writing being "smut" and "trash." Also, Picoult's hometown of Hanover, N.H. has pulled her books, The Pact and Nineteen Minutes; the latter censoring came on the grounds that the layout of the school in her novel (about a mass murder by a student at his high school) too closely resembles that of Hanover's high school. Nineteen was also restricted in a high school in Beardstown, IL, with the students having to obtain parental consent, due to "foul language" and "sexual content." (Not to the subject matter, however.) Another book of hers, My Sister's Keeper, was one of 2009's most challenged books due to sexism (?), homosexuality (??), offensive language, sexual content, religious viewpoints (figure that one out too), drugs, violence and suicide.

Despite all of this, her books are a success with readers, largely because they explore the mindset of teens; how they feel, think, act. Many young adults feel the emotions she displays ring true, as do I. While some of her writing is a bit trite, I do think she effectively portrays many of the struggles of being a teenager in American society, and the pressures, struggles, and confusions that ensue. That, and not the bans, is the important thing. As stated in so many of my posts, all of the things she writes about are present in America. No amount of censoring changes it; the best parents can do is educate their children on what's out there and how to deal with it.

You can read an article Picoult wrote about censorship and her role in it here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pat Conroy, Banned Author

Pat Conroy is a name perhaps perpetually linked with the word "censorship." At least three of his books have been removed from shelves due to their weighty, serious themes- those of suicide, mental illness, rape and death.

For example, the book The Prince of Tides deals with at least three of the above themes outright- it centers upon the Wingo family, with surviving son Tom as narrator. His older brother Luke was killed, and his twin sister Savannah has attempted suicide repeatedly and struggles with depression and schizophrenia. Savannah blames their childhood on the reason why they are so screwed up- their father, Henry, abused them regularly, and their social-climber of a mother, Lila, would never let them speak of it for fear that it would hurt their image. The same spoke true for an unspeakable event in their past- a brutal episode in which a man nicknamed "Callanwolde" escapes from prison with two other men and attacks the family, raping Tom, Savannah and Lila. The only reason they survived was because Luke came home, discovered the attack and set the family tiger, Caesar- a product of one of Henry's many failed business dealings- on two of the men. Tom kills his own attacker. In the years afterward, Savannah tries hard (and fails) to take on the life of a new person by moving to New York, and Tom tries to move on and live a normal life with his wife, Sallie, to no avail. Tom ends up traveling to New York to help his sister, and finds a connection with Savannah's psychiatrist and her son.

Another book of his, Beach Music, centers on Jack, a food critic and author with his own demons in the South who moves to Italy with his daughter Leah after his wife, Shyla, commits suicide. There he escapes from his family- alcoholic father Johnson Hagood, ailing mother Lucy, brothers Dupree, Dallas, Tee and John Hardin (the last of whom is schizonphrenic), in-laws (who tried to get custody of Leah), and friend Capers Middleton, who sold out another friend of theirs, Jordan Elliott. Jordan is also in Italy, transformed from anti-Vietnam protester (and accidental murderer) to Catholic priest and in hiding from prosecution for the deaths of two people. When Lucy ends up nearly on her deathbed from her leukemia, Jack comes back to South Carolina and subsequently brings his past with him, realizing why he stayed away- and also, why it's imperative for him to come back.

Though at times both of these novels are terribly melodramatic (especially in terms of dialogue), they are almost irresistible- compulsively readable, funny in spite of their weight. The characters are well-developed, and Conroy makes no bones about tackling tough subjects such as the ones illustrated in these stories. Likewise, parents have sought to ban his works with the same sort of efficiency. In Charleston, W.Va., parents at Nitro High School attempted to ban these two works for depictions of violence, sexual content, language, sexual assault, and suicide. A student of Nitro High School, Mackenzie Hatfield, got in touch with Conroy and informed him through email that his books were being censored, thus bringing him into the ring. He replied to her, calling the censors "idiots" and maintains that his books reflect real life, in which good and bad happens, quite obviously. I'm in full agreement with him on this. As I quote from his email:

About the novels your county just censored: “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music” are two of my darlings, which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were
killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In “Beach Music,” I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.

When you read of a history such as that one, how can you possibly ask him to write about only happy things? Of course one might wonder exactly why he focuses on the horrible side of things, but he is enough of a talented writer to make these subjects accessible, if a bit hard to stomach at first. The job of a writer is to make one's story realistic- to shock readers, to make them laugh, cry, react. No writer wants to hear that his or her book lulled someone to sleep. No one wants to hear that his or her book isn't something someone out there can relate to. Conroy achieves his purpose, and he does it well. That is the most important thing. In the end, the books were returned to the classroom on the condition that students be offered alternative reading material.

There is another book of Conroy's I haven't yet read, called The Lords of Discipline; I'll most likely update this post with my review of that book, or perhaps even create a new one about it. As for you... read one of Conroy's books on your own, and decide for yourself whether or not Nitro was right in censoring them.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

An Apology.

I am very, very sorry I haven't written in what feels like a month. Having just started a new job, plus going to Springville almost every other weekend, I haven't quite had much time. I promise I'm still reading, though, and I will definitely give you more banned books to check out soon. In fact, when I'm not working, I'm making trips to the library to check out everything they've got. I've checked off quite a few books. Reviews to come shortly.

Right now, on my currently-reading list is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I'm kind of surprised I've never read this before, whether for a class or just on my own. Ah, well. I'll be finishing it soon though. Maybe I'll write a review for it. So far, it's pretty riveting, although true to what I imagined it would be as well.