Sunday 23 September 2018

#BannedBooksWeek: Nerd Church - F**k It, Let's Talk Censorship (Ft. Thirteen Reasons Why)

Warning: this post discusses suicide, suicidal thoughts, mental health problems, sexual harassment, and censorship.

Links may also discuss these topics.

(Did you notice I self-censored in the title of this post? I can't bring myself to swear without *'s because in a traditional Welsh household, the only one allowed to swear is your mam. Lol.)

Banned Books Week banner with megaphone and book: 'Banning books silences stories speak out! Banned Books Week September 23-29, 2018'
Via Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is back! (23-29 Sept 2018)

And, darling nerdlets, I'm here once again to ask all the goddamn awkward questions!

Cos that's kinda what this week is about!

The number 1 most challenged book in the USA (where all the data comes from,) in 2017, was 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I currently have zero plans to read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I personally don't think anyone should support this book, and if it dropped off the face of the planet tomorrow, it would probably be no bad thing.

But if you wanna read it, go the f**k ahead.

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2017. The American Library Association tracked 354 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2017. Of the 416 books that were challenged or banned in 2017, here are the top 10 most challenged: 1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Reason: Suicide. 2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: profanity, sexually explicit. 3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Reason: LGBT content. 4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Reason: sexual violence, religious themes, "may lead to terrorism". 5. George by Alex Gino. Reason: LGBT content. 6. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg. Reason: sex education. 7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Reasons: violence, racial slurs. 8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Reasons: drug use, profanity, "pervasively vulgar". And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Reason: LGBT content. 10. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings. Reason: gender identity.

I'm not sure how I would feel about it being in a school library though.

It's all very well and good to say 'zero censorship,' and freedom of information for all, but I'm not about to put 50 Shades of Grey in the little kids' section, y'know?

And yes, I know teenagers are their own people, with their own capacity for rational thought and opinions.

But I also remember what it was like to be a teenager.

And what it was like to feel suicidal.

And honestly? I think that both book and series should have a content warning, and a suicide prevention warning.

(I know the series has upped their warnings - and that's good.)

From what I've heard -

(and you can play the 'but you haven't even read it!' card all you like, I know if I touch the stove it's gonna be hot, I don't have to stick my palm on it to prove it,)

- it glorifies suicide and portrays suicide and mental health very poorly.

Quote with book cover - 'No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people' Hannah Baker. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Maybe I'm wrong - I'll admit that possibility.

I'm not afraid to say it. I might be wrong.

(But the info. I currently have suggests the stove is hot.)

Remove it from the school, or public, library, though?

Maybe not.

I still shrink from that level of control of reading materials.

But I'd put an age rating on it.

(In this case, I personally would say an age of 15 or 16 - which is around about the age it's aimed at, anyway, right?)

And I'd slap a warning sticker on it t'boot.

(And no, Trigger Warnings and Content Warnings are NOT censorship - they don't prevent you from accessing the material.)

I've been accused of 'banning' Thirteen Reasons Why simply for suggesting that reviewers address the controversy in their reviews, and/or warn people about the content.

And I'm a little concerned that people can't see the difference between those actions.

If you disagree with me, though, then that's fine too!

You're allowed to disagree with me! That's the beauty of it 😊

Does limiting the age of access make me a censor?

Or just someone who knows the potential for copycat suicides? (Particular WARNING for this link.)

Does my unwillingness to stick 50 Shades of Grey in the kids' section make me a censor?

Or just someone who knows that that level of explicit sexual content is inappropriate for that age group?

Related: Conversations - Is 15 Years Old Too Young To Be Reading 50 Shades of Grey?

Banned Books Week banner with megaphone and book: Banning Books Silences Stories. Speak Out! #BannedBooksWeek

The world is rarely as simple as we'd all like it to be.

And I'm not pro-censorship. By any means.

But I report and block trolls on Twitter. I hope they get kicked off for being jerks.

Does that make me a censor?

Or just someone whose read the terms and conditions of the website and knows that you break the user agreement by acting like a bigoted a**h*le?

You're still free to sling insults.

But that doesn't mean you get to use proprietary materials (i.e. a social network which is owned, maintained, and run, by a third party,) to do it.

And, come to think of it, in the UK, there's a limit to what insults you're allowed to hurl.

Does that make the UK a police state?

Or just a place where I have the freedom to walk down the street without getting slurs thrown at me (theoretically)?

The world is rarely as simple as we'd all like it to be.

Thirteen Reasons Why has actually resulted in deaths.

Should we ignore that in favour of zero censorship?

Or should we protect lives first?

What good is Freedom Of Speech to the dead?

Should our principles come before our safety?

And, because this book is a magnet for controversy, there's also the matter of the sexual harassment allegations against Jay Asher.

Now, I don't want to go into detail on that, because I'm a believer in conflicting truths: the people who accused him are telling the truth AND he is totally innocent until proven guilty.

Because legally that's the current state of things until something shifts to tip the balance one way or the other.

But I will ask this: should we judge books by the reputations of their authors?

Part of me says yes: there's lots of books I haven't read because the authors act like trash online, and I don't want to support them.

But part of me says no.

Or at least, not if the book is on an unrelated topic.

Both sides of me are pretty sure we shouldn't ban books on account of author reputation though.

Thoughts, my nerdlets?

There are still problems with censorship in the modern world, though, dearest nerdlets.

Note also that the books on the list are largely diverse books.

And 'LGBT content' is still seen as a reason to challenge a book.

As if the acknowledgement of Queer people's existence is inherently dangerous.

Related: 5 Simple Rules For Reading and Reviewing LGBTQ+ Books

We can't ignore The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas being on that list - despite the fact that it was only published in 2017.

The Hate U Give has been one of the most fiercely challenged books in the US lately.

When the police force are getting involved in a school's summer reading list because the book makes them look bad - THAT is pure censorship.

'Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.' - Starr Carter, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Another example of pure censorship?

A certain President's attempts to STOP THE PUBLICATION of books which portray him in a negative light.

Stopping people from banning books like Thirteen Reasons Why is admirable, but putting out a candle when the house is burning down seems like a weird set of priorities.

The bigger acts of censorship - the ones motivated purely by politics or personal gain, and/or the ones preventing publication, or involving the government - are the ones we all need to be shouting about.

Focus on the mountains, dearest nerdlets, rather than the molehills.

To sum up:

(Yeah... I know that this post meandered quite a bit!)

  • It's Banned Books Week

  • The #1 most challenged book in the US in 2017 was Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

    • There are legitimate concerns about this books portrayal of suicide and mental health

    • There have also been allegations made against the author

    • I personally don't wanna read this book and think it's trash

    • BUT I don't think it should be banned

      • But I DO think that it should have an age restriction and a content warning

      • If you don't think so, that's totally fine

  • There's still a problem with censorship in the modern world

    • The police and government imposing this censorship is the most concerning form (imho.)

    • Diverse books are still disproportionately under threat.

If you're struggling with ANYTHING emotionally or mentally my dear nerdlets, PLEASE get help.

There are also suicide prevention and/or mental health helplines you can use.

Do you think Thirteen Reasons Why should be restricted in any way?

What do you think of age ratings and Content Warnings?

Do you think censorship is still an issue?

Talk to me! 😎💬

You can follow me on Twitter @CeeDoraReads, on Dora Reads @ BlogLovin, and on Google+. For more ways to support me, check out the Support Me page

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Please share and comment! 😊

Last updated: 27th Sept 2018


  1. I actually do not think Thirteen Reasons Why should be banned or censored, and this is because I think the tv show is ten times worse. When I read the book, I didn’t have as many issues with it as I did the tv show, and sadly, it is extremely hard to put restrictions on Netflix shows, because younger kids can still watch them without their parents knowing. Thirteen Reasons Why is in my elementary school library and although I am completely against an eight year old picking it up, I think that if a thirteen year old would, which is the age that I first read it at, it would be up to them to be informed by their educators and the people around them that this is not the path to go on. I do think some stickers with trigger warnings would help a lot though, particularly with high-risk teens! Thanks for posting this, Cee, it was very informative :)

    1. I'm with you on it not being banned or censored - like I said, I'm not comfortable with that level of control.

      We go to comprehensive (high school) here at about 12, so there'd be no reason for it to be in a primary (elementary) school library as far as I'm concerned. It's interesting to hear that you think it'd be OK for younger than 15 or 16 though :) I guess it depends on the kid!

      I think Content Warning stickers are a must for this one... and I get so annoyed when people say they're censorship! Like... really?! It might be useful to just stick a leaflet for mental health help or the Samaritans in it - so that that info. is there if it's needed.

      Thanks Em! :)

    2. Yeah, it really does depend on a kid. Would I want a highly depressed and anxious twelve year old reading it? No, but if a mature thirteen year old wanted to learn more, I don’t think we should stop them.

    3. Which is why age ratings aren't bad - cos I watched plenty of 15 and 18 films before I was that age, cos my parents bought the DVD for me, or let me watch them on TV. I get that there's still problems with that - i.e. if your parents are uber-strict for no reason. No solution is perfect. But still, content warning labels for the win! Lol. :)

  2. Interesting post! I read 13 Reasons Why before all the hype. I have real-life experience with the stuff in the book. Because of that, I thought the book was mind-blowingly stupid, but I wouldn’t want it banned. That’s also stupid. I think parents should be aware of what their kids are reading and talk to them about it. That’s a better solution than banning books.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. That's a good approach. Although, honestly, a lot of teenage kids would rather do *anything* than talk to their parents about difficult topics! Lol.

  3. ok oh wow ok cracking and stretching my fingers to type awayyyyy. Sorry if this comment ends up being too long.

    I totally agree with everything you said here. I would only add to "Focus on the mountains, dearest nerdlets, rather than the molehills" TOUGH some little pumps maybe like the tips of icebergs. (Like subtle systematized discrimination)

    I usually never post negative reviews because when I don't like a book I usually don't finished it and if I DNF I don't review it BUT I do reserve passionate negative reviews for books related to mental health and child abuse/molestation.

    I wrote a very looooong review for 13 reasons why to which that I refer (and link to) to in every opportunity I can. You commented on it but you had not read the book yet :)

    I do not support censorship in any way especially those that are, as you said it so well " motivated purely by politics or personal gain" or, I would add, "to silence and continue to oppress or manipulate the oppressed" as is the case of books like THUG. No, not all police officers are "bad" but there are MANY are prejudiced and racial profiling IS a reality we all have to acknowledge and eradicate.

    So, yes, I'm against censorship HOWEVER I really don't know what to do with books like 13 Reasons Why and All the Ugly and Wonderful thing (which romanticizes pedophilia). And also I agree with "teenagers are their own people, with their own capacity for rational thought and opinions" BUT some facts of life often take years to learn. Like how recognized when you are being groomed by a pedophile. Or when you are suffering from a mental illness. I also remember being a teenager and how what I saw on TV and read in books made the "reality" for me. How I thought many things were normal (like subtles form of discrimination and abuse) until I lived long enough to realized they were not. It is not a matter of being smarter when you are older because that really doesn't have to do with age. It is more like about statistical science. The bigger the sampler the better the study. Meaning, the more years you have experienced the better certain situations the better you get at dealing with them. We can call it experience, wisdom, or whatever. but it is what it is. I was waaaay smarter when I was younger I learned faster and retained facts better. However, I am so much more wiser and better "equipped" now to face certain things.

    The problem with books like 13 Reasons Why And all the Ugly Wonderful things, IMHO, is that the danger they pose cannot be addressed with age restriction. I had not felt suicidal for almost a decade when I read TRW and WOW was I triggered???? I don't know if "triggered" is the world. I think that is a term I'm not sure I'm very familiar with BUT wow! I KNEW KNEW KNEW without any doubt that if I had read something like that when I was suicidal it could have had fatal results. I still clearly remember (and get the chills) the EXACT page that I thought was so dangerous. 256. I wasn't a teenager when I read it.

    To this day I still agonize over my not being able to know what to do with that kind of books. Warnings sometimes are an invitation for some people for example.

    Wonderful post as usual! xoxo

    1. WOW, I love this comment Daniela!

      Apologies if I miss some points in my reply - I'll try to address most of them though!

      I agree that systemised discrimination can seem small from the surface - but I was totally counting it as a 'mountain!' Lol.

      I remember your review! It was thoughtful and awesome. I still haven't read the book though! Lol.

      I agree that it's difficult to know what to do with books like this when they're aimed at a younger audience. You don't wanna talk down to teens (cos a) some teens are pretty together, b) that's kind of rude generally, and c) a lot of teens think they know everything anyway!) but you still feel like you have to say *something*, y'know?

      I get what you mean about warnings sometimes being taken as an invitation, but I would still rather warn than not. That way, at least you've done everything that you can, and the shock won't take people off-guard. We can only be responsible for the things we can be responsible for - and I feel strongly that the responsible thing with Thirteen Reasons Why in particular is to provide a warning.

      There are a lot of books I read which result in me taking breaks while reading them. I normally *expect* my books to be pretty dark - because I read a lot of dark books! - but they can still get too heavy, or throw you off-balance, especially if there's content you weren't expecting.

      I get that there's no 'perfect' answer to this - that's why we have to keep asking the diabolical questions ;)

      And thank you so much for the compliment! <3

  4. I think it's a great idea to have an age rating on the book just like what they do for the DVDs. This way the person is forewarned and know if it's appropriate or not. It's may not solve everything but at least it'll be a start.

    I read The Kite Runner and loved the book... just don't see how it may 'lead to terrorism'? It's like saying reading a murder/crime is going to lead to murders and crime.

    Great post Cee!

    Dinh@Arlene's Book Club

    1. I think it would be good too - as long as it's made clear that it's a content rating, rather than a reading age. Reading ages can put off advanced or less-advanced readers from reading things more suited to their reading level.

      I know very little about The Kite Runner; but I have a feeling that particular complaint may have been rooted in Islamophobia, or at the very least, misconceptions about Afghan and/or Muslim people.

      Thank you! <3

  5. I will NEVER read Thirteen Reasons Why, but I admit I saw the show because of some peer pressure (something else I'm INCREDIBLY AGAINST, but that's a completely different topic for another time), but also because I wanted to see if what people were saying about the book was true. And I do agree that they glorified suicide, and made a mess out of the people who "may" or may not have been reasons of Hannah's suicide. It was just incredibly disturbing.

    But I'm also definitely against censorship!!! I actually read 50 Shades of Gray when I was... 12? And I do believe I was mature enough to read it at a time, so I'm not really for age warnings, since some people can be more or less mature of their age. BUT CONTENT WARNINGS!!! YES!!! These are so important, and ~those~ will help a person determine whether a book can build them up or harm them more. Censorship seems like a never-ending issue... a few months ago, I believe an author said content warnings = censorship which pretty much exploded the bookish community. :/ Anyway, fantastic post as always, Cee!!!

    1. I don't mind whether you read it, watched it, etc. But don't feel like you *have* to read or watch something, and don't feel like you have to *not* read or watch something. You're too awesome to be lead by other people ;) (But don't be too hard on yourself! We all give in to curiosity and/or pressure sometimes!)

      I feel like 12 is probably not an appropriate age, I'm not gonna lie. But hell *shrugs* you can disagree and that's cool by me!

      My argument isn't so much stopping people at younger ages from reading books, it's more... not making it easy for them...? Or not tempting them...? Like, you read 50 Shades at 12. Fine. You find a copy by yourself and read it, because I'm not giving you one, and I'm not putting it in the kids' section! Y'know?

      Yes, I'm def. aware of the periodic explosions of content warning controversy. And it's cr*p. Content warnings are for those who need them. If you don't need them - just ignore them! Simple as. I get really pi**ed off at people who get involved in topics which are literally none of their business. If you don't wanna give a content warning then fine - don't. No-one's forcing you! But don't rant at people who do want, need, and use, them.

      Thanks Aimee! :)

  6. I wrote a post about banned books week last year that addresses a similar issue (you can read it by clicking the link, if you're interested). And one major example that I gave was this book. Do I want it completely banned? Not exactly, but at the same time, I don't really blame schools for not wanting it on their shelves. And I certainly don't think it should be in an elementary school library. It's the type of book that I think an adult should help kids process. (I will admit that I'm basing this on the show and not the book---I found the messages in the show pretty disturbing and thought that it might give a suicidal young person the idea that And, unfortunately, I don't know that warnings would necessarily help because kids who are in a state of mind where this book could be harmful to them might also not be in the best state of mind to be making decisions about what is and isn't harmful. Does that make sense at all?

    Like you said, though, there aren't really easy answers. But this is one case (and I'm sure there are others), where I don't think a book needs to be made available in a library specifically geared toward younger ages. Just my opinion. :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I've just left a slightly rambling comment on your post - I hope you enjoy it ;)

      Warnings aren't always to say 'don't read this' - I appreciate warnings because I can get myself into an emotional state where I'm ready to read about the topic. Sometimes descriptions of panic attacks can actually cause a panic attack if I'm not prepared for them, especially if they're v. realistic. The surprise can be just as damaging as the content - although granted, this particular book is probs. famous enough to not surprise many people now.

      Maybe the warnings won't help in some cases, but I'd rather provide them (and info. about where to get help if poss.) than not provide them! I think sticking a leaflet for a mental health charity in the back of the book would be really helpful in suicide prevention, because it's the little things that keep you here - *proof* that someone cares about you. (Sorry, this paragraph got kinda dark!)

      I think age restrictions are difficult - some people consider them censorship, but I refer those people to my 50 Shades of Grey example! Lol.

  7. I really, really struggle with this; and what concerns me so much about 13 Reasons Why in particular is that adults ALSO don't have a good grip on what suicide contagion looks like and how to talk about suicide in a healthy way. You know? So it's hard to say, oh, well, adults can help kids and talk through the issues, because adults are quite bad at talking through this particular issue. I'm not a parent, but I think if I were and my kid came home with 13 Reasons Why as an assigned book in class, I'd at least go to that teacher with some material on why that book is such a fucked-up portrayal of suicide, so they could go into it with open eyes. And if the teacher decided to go ahead with the book, I'd want them to have some class time dedicated to talking about suicide and how to cope with suicidal ideation and how to help friends who might be thinking of suicide.

    But yeah, I wouldn't try to ban it from libraries. That feels like a losing battle, for one thing, and a bad type of precedent to set, for another.

    1. (This comment got pretty dark - just a heads-up!)

      I was in school during what you might describe as a suicide contagion outbreak in the local area. The news coverage, even, was extremely harmful. And then some f**ked up human being (NOT a local) made a horror movie out of it a few years later. Which... I can't even describe how angry that made me.

      My teachers were useless. Yes, they sent a letter with symptoms of suicidal behaviour home (with the kids... cos I'm sure *they* all made it into the hands of parents,) and said they were available to talk... but they also didn't notice when 15 year olds were actually drunk in their classroom. I sh** you not.

      Being in that atmosphere... and being from an area which, even now, has a high suicide rate... I don't talk out of my a** about this, y'know? I think sometimes people think I'm overreacting but... I've seen how suicides can cluster. I know of two people who I went to school with whose mothers killed themselves (for different reasons - I'm just pointing out that I'm familiar with the affects it can have.) I know when the railway line is blocked off with police tape... it's not for a good reason. I've felt suicidal and walked past that suicide spot and forced myself to keep walking. I'm not just trying to be a spoilsport.

      I wouldn't ban Thirteen Reasons Why. I would stick a warning label on it. I would (as I've mentioned in other comments) stick a mental health charity leaflet - probably for the Samaritans - inside.

      I think that... if it's an assigned book (which, we wouldn't have been assigned anything like that, it was usually Dickens and all that,) then teachers should have the introductory lesson - where they actually hand out the book - as a suicide prevention lesson.

      I wouldn't ban it from libraries - but I wouldn't put it with the picture books either! ;)


Comments? I love comments! Talk to me nerdlets!