Guest Post…50 Shades of Censorship

Author Frank Nappi joins us again at Aside from Writing  as we re-post another piece from his own Goodreads blog. 

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So public libraries in several states across the country have made the decision to pull the “50 Shades of Grey trilogy” from their shelves – and other libraries have decided not to order it at all. Not too long ago the Hunger Games trilogy experienced a similar fate – violence was the prevalent issue with this series. Some libraries have suggested the 50 Shades trilogy is too steamy and better yet others have suggested it is poorly written – paying no mind that “50 Shades” has become a best-selling worldwide phenomenon that has catapulted author E.L. James from relative unknown to superstardom. Shouldn’t libraries stock what people want to read? And these libraries are clearly saying they have the power to decide what people read. As library use dwindles with the continued growth of E-readers, Ipads, and online retailers like Amazon, the American Library Association should be encouraging libraries to appeal to a greater audience. While I myself have not read the books, and have heard from friends that the writing would not meet my standard for eloquent prose, there is no escaping the fact that EVERYONE is talking about this series….a trilogy that was borne of Twilight fanfiction originally. While I myself was not a fan of the equally popular Twilight series nor the vampire genre as a whole, as an English teacher I would be lying if I didn’t say that the fact that so many students were walking around the building with one of the books in hand didn’t make me smile. It made kids (ok…mostly girls) excited about reading and that was endorsement enough for me.

But of even greater importance is that this is censorship and censorship is dangerous. When do we stop? Where do we draw the line? And who makes that decision? There are many books that currently sit on library shelves with “questionable” content and even more books that are taught in high schools across the country that someone somewhere would find questionable. The same libraries that refuse to shelve “50 Shades” offer their patrons Lolita by Nabokov – one of the most controversial examples of 20th century literature; however that book also made the World Library’s list of 100 best books of all time. So what standard is being followed? Should we remove Macbeth from our curriculum because of the violence and witchcraft? Who decides what is appropriate?

Sanitized stories rarely have anything to offer – it is the more complex and controversial themes that stir us – it is often the evocative that challenges our thinking and our perceptions and makes us question ourselves. These are the books worth reading – these are the experiences worth having. It is why ironically the list of the most popular banned books in schools contains some of the greatest in the literary cannon – Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, The Giver, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I am by no means comparing “50 Shades” or Twilight, or the Hunger Games to any of the aforementioned – but as a teacher and as an author I can’t agree with the banning or censoring of books in either schools or libraries. Even the American Library Association in its Freedom to Read statement focuses on the freedom to read as guaranteed by the Constitution and affirms that it is in the public interest for librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority (so there seems to be some hypocrisy or at least contradiction in this latest library ban).

The Freedom to Read statement from the ALA goes on to say:

The power of a democratic system to adapt to change is vastly strengthened by the freedom of its citizens to choose widely from among conflicting opinions offered freely to them…Publishers, librarians, and booksellers do not need to endorse every idea or presentation they make available. It would conflict with the public interest for them to establish their own political, moral, or aesthetic views as a standard for determining what should be published or circulated……The people should have the freedom to read and consider a broader range of ideas than those that may be held by any single librarian or publisher or government or church. It is wrong that what one can read should be confined to what another thinks proper.

I recently had the “how much do I sanitize issue” with my own book, Sophomore Campaign. Much like the controversy surrounding the book Ernest Hemingway pronounced as the source of all modern American literature – Huckleberry Finn (and led to the recent rerelease where all uses of the “N” word was replaced with the word slave) – I had used the “N” word to showcase the rampant racism that was typical for my novel’s setting. Not everyone who worked with me to publish the book felt that its use was necessary or even appropriate. I had to decide what made sense for my audience. This of course was more an issue of political correctness rather than censorship, but still stirred up in me some of the same emotions connected to the issues I raise here.

And in the end, the romance between a college student and a manipulative billionaire may or may not be your thing – and perhaps you would prefer to read the newly released version of “Huck” or you would defend the original to the end – but nevertheless the library ban of this popular trilogy should offend you as an author, a reader, and as a lover of the written word – I can think of “50” reasons why.

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About the Author

Author – Frank Nappi

Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction for 2006. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a screenplay adaptation of the touching story which aired nationwide in the fall of 2011 (A Mile in His Shoes starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder). Frank continues to produce quality work, including The Legend of Mickey Tussler: Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story, and is presently at work on a third installment of the unique series. Frank lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.

(This was originally published 10th May, 2012).

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Want to know more? Check out the links!

Links for both of Frank’s Tussler books as well as the amazon link for the movie that was adapted from the first book:
The Legend of Mickey Tussler
Sophomore Campaign
A Mile in His Shoes
website:  www.franknappi.com

3 thoughts on “Guest Post…50 Shades of Censorship

  1. Libraries can obviously only stock a certain amount of books at once, so it makes sense for them to be a bit choosy about what they have on their shelves.

    It does seem utterly stupid to refuse to stock something as popular as 50 Shades of Grey though, it serves no practical purpose.

  2. I suppose the heart of the issue is,and always will be: Is a library required to take a moral stance on what books it has, or should it be passive and distribute anything?

    To take an extreme example, what if my local library stocked information on how to make a bomb or sarin nerve gas?

  3. Tony – I hear what you are saying, although I do think there is a difference from the type of “reading” you suggest and 50 Shades. Turned out to be such a controversial series. Michael, I agree that it serves no purpose either. Seems harmless enough that libraries would want to offer up to some degree what people really want – get more people in the door!!! Thank you both for the feedback.

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