You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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Here’s a good summary of the prejudices and fears behind Arizona’s ethnic studies ban and the removal of certain books from Tucson high school classes.


“I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”  Dr. Suess’ Yertle the Turtle sounds like some kind of hippie troublemaker, eh?  Ban him!

The Pennsylvania school district that banned a children’s book called The Dirty Cowboy has a long history of banning.

Keeping an eye on right wing groups dedicated to organizing parents who want to dictate what we, and our children, can read.

Here’s one Wisconsin school board standing up to organized would-be book banners.

But there are always more would-be book banners … here’s a Virginia couple who want their child’s school to ban M.T. Anderson’s YA novel, Feed.  I reviewed this book a while back … I’d recommend it to anyone, young or old.

My banned book Google alert summaries are clogged with links to stories about libraries jumping on the anti-Fifty Shades of Grey bandwagon, refusing to stock it on the grounds that it is erotica, not literature.  Interestingly, some readers are fighting back.  Must take guts, being willing to be publicly named as a supporter of “pornography” (and notice, the local newspaper does name names).  Everything old is new again, isn’t it?  Lenny Bruce and Henry Miller must be laughing.

We said goodbye to children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak last week.  Did you know his books were … and still are, from time to time … challenged and even banned?  Sad but true.

Last month I did some geocaching, going out with a hand-held GPS and looking for hidden stashes of goodies.  Last week I read an article about a Seattle library hiding books around town and challenging young readers to find them.  Now I’m having a peanut butter/chocolate truck collision moment.  How about hiding banned books for young geocachers to find, read, and hide again?  Anyone up for that?

The book I’m reviewing below is a YA novel aimed at middle and high school girls.  Before I get to the review, here’s an article from The Atlantic containing recommendations of good YA books for girls (and yes, almost all of them have been challenged or banned at one time or another).

You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review

Gossip GirlGossip Girl (Gossip Girl #1)
by Cecily von Ziegesar

I read Gossip Girl because it keeps appearing on the American Library Association’s annual top ten list of frequently challenged books. These are books that are challenged by parents and religious groups who want them removed from school libraries and reading lists, often for brief mentions of sex or masturbation. Generally, when I read such a book, I find it to be honest, well written, and moral. Many are written with a young adult audience in mind and are meant to teach teenagers to think critically. They abound with valuable life lessons and are just the sort of books I wish I’d have read back in junior high … I come away scratching my head, wondering if these parents and religious groups ever read past the offending passage.

Alas, this is not the case with Gossip Girl. I read this slim volume, the first in a series aimed at young adult readers, in six hours. Finishing it, I felt as if I’d emerged from a hellish wait in a dentist’s office with nothing to read but back issues of People and Teen Beat. Shallow? My god, if you took out the celebrity name-dropping and references to expensive brand name products, glamorous vacation destinations, and tony Manhattan addresses, what you’d have left would be a pamphlet.

And what would be in that pamphlet? Bitchy WASP prep school girls and their date-rapey WASP preppie boyfriends, gossiping, cutting each other down to size, plotting vengeance over minor slights, drinking, taking drugs, cutting school, lying, fucking, and having their anuses photographed. No damn wonder this book gets parents and religious groups riled up … it’s nihilistic, bereft of a moral compass, dedicated to greed and vindictiveness.

I kept asking myself if there was some joke I wasn’t getting. Was I supposed to hate these characters? Were my lips meant to curl in disgust? Is Gossip Girl a subversive tract to be studied by proletarian youth so they’ll know who to drag to the guillotine, come the revolution?

Who reads this stuff? If J.K. Rowling’s heroes had been Draco Malfoy and his band of bullying shits, she’d still be languishing in obscurity. Yet the Gossip Girl books are quite popular, I understand, mainly with young girls. Are girls really this shallow? Well, someone must buy those celeb lifestyle magazines!

I suspect parents and religious groups go after the Gossip Girl books because they depict teenaged kids having sex and taking drugs. Personally, I’m far more upset by the characters’ lack of values and the absence of moral direction from the author. Would I want copies removed from the local junior high school’s library? No, of course not. But if I had a teenager at home, this is the last book I’d recommend.

© 2012, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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