curious banned 09-05-2014

the wilson county school board in tennessee has banned curious incident from its reading list for ninth graders taking honours level english classes (full story here). my own feelings are largely ones of weary bemusement. it’s happened before on many occasions (sometimes blasphemy and atheism are added to the charge sheet) though i’m only aware of cases in the usa. curious is not short of readers, banning it almost certainly makes the book more attractive to those from whom it is being withheld and these kind of controversies make people talk and think hard about books and reading which is always a good thing.

it's a little self-serving for an author to get on their high horse about a book of their own being banned. better to save that indignation for the bannning of someone else's book when it has more force. some thoughts, though…

the fact that there is swearing in a book does not mean that the book “promotes swearing” any more than it promotes, for example, killing a dog with a garden fork, or telling your son that his mother is dead.

christopher never swears.

because christopher is largely deaf to tone and subtext he is utterly oblivious to the intended effect of “bad language” and it has absolutely no power to offend him. i find this funny. i think it also says something instructive about how swearing works. there is a good (and, I confess, complimentary) article about this subject by john mullan here.

most of those banning the book have not read the whole thing. almost always they talk about the prevalence of what they coyly refer to as “the f-bomb”. if they had read the whole book they would know that it also contains what i shall coyly refer to as “the c-bomb” and “the s-my-c bomb” (those are two quite different “c”s).

you cannot stop children soaking language of all kinds (unless you take them halfway up a mountain and shut the door and burn the tv and that’s not a recipe for a happy adulthood). what children need to learn is how to use language in context, how to articulate their ideas and feelings, how to be heard in a certain way by some people and in another way by other people, how not to offend and (occasionally) how to offend. it’s not about what you say. it’s about what you say to whom, and when, and how.

there is a temptation to suggest that banning books is a sinister act. it’s too ridiculous and self-defeating to be sinister. it is pretty much guaranteed to have the opposite effects to those intended. and it makes you look foolish.