Is it ever right to ban a book?

First aired on Blue Sky 28/02/14

Book censorship was the topic of discussion on CBC Saskatchewan's call-in radio show Blue Sky. Guest host Stefani Langenegger and Regina author Gail Bowen discuss the question: is it ever justified to ban a book? 

The co-hosts talked about some surprising books that were banned such as Margaret Laurence's The Diviners and Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women; the latter was pulled from high school curriculum in Ontario in the 1970s due to its sexual content. 

banned-books-380.jpgLangenegger and Bowen also talked about race and the controversial receptions to Huckleberry Finn and The Book of Negroes. In the case of Huck Finn, there were many efforts to ban or clean up the language in the novel. "At the beginning it was banned because the language was vulgar and also because Huck was a rebel," Bowen said. "It's been banned in our sensitive times because there was a sense that there was stereotyping of Jim, and Huck uses the N word." Bowen goes on to say that "we are all offended by the N word" but she believes people who are offended don't have to read the book.

Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes caused a firestorm in the U.S. due to its use of the word negroes and there were threats to burn his book. Bowen says the title was actually a historical reference with a positive meaning. "[The book of negroes] was a historical book containing the names of the [black] soldiers who helped on the British side. If their names appeared in the book of negroes, they were allowed to migrate from Manhattan to Canada." In the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, the book name was changed to Someone Knows My Name. Bowen said when Lawrence Hill visited the U.S., some people told him they never would have picked up the book otherwise.

When the program opened up the phone lines to listeners, one former librarian spoke of the complaints he received about his library's multilingual collection -- particularly books that had Communist themes.

A caller and author named Diane shared her experience learning that some readers took issue with a scene in her book and tried to organize against it. In the scene, a secondary character who is raped tries to abort her pregnancy with the use of herbs. Other scenes in her book were not challenged even though they included violence and cannibalism. Although Diane was hurt by the backlash at first, she took it as a compliment that readers were invested in her characters.

Another caller said that books that incite hatred or violence against a group should definitely be banned. Indeed hate literature is banned in Canada, but Bowen admitted that what is considered "offensive" towards a group varies.

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Tim from Swift Current said it's often not about the book content at all, but rather the culture at the time and the people who have the bias. "Sometimes it's good to hit a nerve and interrogate these ideas."

The last caller, Beverly, was given the last word. She believes kids shouldn't be protected from certain books, but that parents need to talk to kids about the content. "Better off discussing the ideas and not let the ideas go under ground. Even young kids can understand a terrific amount. They understand some ideas are good and bad. We can't have topics that nobody talks about."