There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.When I was in high school, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was required reading. It was one of the better books we were given to read, and it stuck with me. Fahrenheit 451, if you haven’t read it, is about a future world where books deemed dangerous to society are banned and burned, in order to protect people from their potentially inflammatory ideas (pun intended). The books so designated included anything historical and most of classic literature and poetry, lest anyone reading them be inspired to an original thought. I’m reminded of this book today after reading an editorial in the September 18th Springfield, MO News-Leader, entitled “Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education”. In this piece, Dr. Wesley Scroggins reports on some books that are part of the Republic, MO school curriculum, which he feels are inappropriate for the school system and should be removed. Which tasteless tomes has he targeted? Besides some sex education materials designed to explain the birds and the bees to the eighth-graders before they figure it all out for themselves, he picks on Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult novel Speak. This highly acclaimed, award-winning book is extremely popular with both teachers and students, because it presents an ugly topic—teenage acquaintance rape—in a fictional, non-preachy, easily accessible format. Speak takes a painful subject, ordinarily relegated to whispered conversations, and places it squarely in the hands and minds of those who need it most. Dr. Scroggins objects to two passages in the book which hint at the rape of a high school freshman by a boy she met at a party. Dr. Scroggins refers to these passages as “soft pornography”. Pardon me while I laugh so hard I choke on my own spit. Speak is told in the voice of the victim, a young girl whose description of the experience is perfectly age appropriate and about as objectionable as an evening with the Disney Channel. Maybe less so. I find myself wondering what his real motive is, as I can’t see any reasonable person being offended by the material in this book. The Scarlet Letter was a whole lot racier, and does nowhere near what Speak can do to encourage young people to open up about their problems, rather than keeping it all inside. But what am I saying? I’m sure Dr. Scroggins hates The Scarlett Letter, too, since it opens up that nasty can of worms about religious leaders who abuse their positions of power… This attack on free speech hit a little closer to home for me, since it was my discovery of Speak several years ago that inspired me to write Little Miss Straight Lace. Speak was the first book I ever read that managed to explore the unpleasant aftermath of teenage sexual abuse in a realistic, but fictional format that would appeal to anyone. LMSL takes a similar approach, but focuses on mature adults embroiled in a conspiracy tying back to traumatic experiences in their youth. I can only hope that my words will carry a fraction of the impact that Ms. Anderson’s have. And I can also hope that some future-world maniac will threaten to ban my work from schools and libraries, as I could use the publicity. I suppose Ms. Anderson owes Mr. Scroggins a debt of gratitude for his very public, ultra-conservative tirade, since it has already spurred a renewed interest in her already popular book. Sorry, Dr. Scroggins, your book-burning plan just backfired.
—Ray Bradbury, Coda to a later edition of Fahrenheit 451
Halse Anderson’s “Speak” Labeled Pornography
Tagged censorship, laurie halse anderson, Little Miss Straight Lace, Maria Elizabeth Romana, Maria Romana, rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, speak. Bookmark the permalink.