I began to think about this one day when someone in a seminar asked me if there was "language" in one of the books I was discussing. Flippant person that I am, I responded that yes, the book was in English. But I knew what this person was driving at immediately. If I responded that in the affirmative, I was fairly certain this person would not even consider purchasing the book. If I lied or hedged, though, was that even worse? Would it be a betrayal? Would this person ever consider a recommendation from me? This is a tightrope that could easily strangle me, I think. What did I do? I answered as honestly as I could about "language."
To be honest, when I read of some of the challenges for "language" I am surprised. I generally cannot recall the use of cussing (dontcha love that word?) unless it seems out of place for the character to use the word. This does not happen often. When a character utters a curse it is generally under the kind of circumstances I would also use more colorful language. One of the books we talked about in class this weekend was Coe Booth's TYRELL. Tyrell uses some colorful language. In his position I would as well. Sometimes a gosh-golly-gee-whiz is insufficient. I have been known to drop the F-bomb in times of great stress. Is this the best way to approach a problem? I am certain it is not. However, I do it. I am all too human. I expect my characters to be human as well.
So, do I tell folks in a review about Operation Be Fucking Normal from the novel I am reviewing? Or do I indicate that there are intense scenes and incredible obstacles for the characters? Yes, there are those little cues we use: intense, mature, etc. Do these alone make someone steer clear of a book? Am I then complicit in the censorship taking place? Sheesh, I really do wish it were more cut and dried than it is.
So, today I finished mailing the last of the banned books out to teachers and librarians. All told, I mailed 20 books. I am taking a couple copies of TWENTY BOY SUMMER and IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL and ANNIE ON MY MIND to a doctoral seminar in reading tonight where I am speaking about the changing landscape of books and reading. I am sure I will find some other trouble to cause for the final few days of Banned Books Week. For now, I need to get back to the other part of my job--reading and writing about books.