Michele A'Court: Banning books is like banning ideas

Is banning books a step too far?

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OPINION: So here in New Zealand, we've banned a book.

I honestly didn't know this was still a thing. Next you'll be telling me there are some witches who need burning, or that a boat sailed to the horizon and fell off.

Not being the target demographic, I haven't read Ted Dawes' "Into the River". But I will now. You don't need to be a witch to see what happens next. It will be the opposite of what Family First wants.

Author Ted Dawe with a copy of his banned book, Into the River.
JASON DORDAY/FAIRFAX NZ

Author Ted Dawe with a copy of his banned book, Into the River.

This interim ban on the sale, display and lending of a book of young adult fiction will end (pretty sure that's what "interim" means) at which point there will be some combination of warning-sticker, sealed-packaging, under-the-counter nonsense attempting to treat it as the literary equivalent of a packet of Marlborough.

Which is when "Into The River" will go from being an award-winning, frequently-borrowed library book to a massive bestseller. Which will be great for this book. But not great for books.

It's not just that I think the Film and Literature Board of Review made a mistake in banning this particular book. Though I'm fairly certain that's also true.

Libraries and bookstores (not your usual hotbeds of immorality) describe "Into The River" as a valuable anti-bullying resource, while conservative Christians can't get past the sex, drugs and swearing.

One of them said on my radio he'd read some excerpts and found them obscene, and had counted a large number of "F-words" in the first few chapters.

Reading bits out of context is never a great way to assess literature or how it will affect a reader.

That kind of approach could lead to a review of the Bible describing it as a book jam-packed with drunken seduction, incest, rape, violent murder, genocide, and cruelty. 

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I'd suggest if you're looking for a high count of F-words, try standing outside any intermediate playground during break.

My problem is with banning books, per se. Because you can't ban ideas – which is what books are. What you can do is discuss those ideas, hold them up to the light, argue against them, offer different ideas. (I'm not talking child pornography here – that's covered by an entirely different law.)

I can't find anything on the list of books that have been banned somewhere in the world at some time that I think should be made to disappear.

Hateful, yes, some of them and I wouldn't give them house room, and I'd be happy to argue my corner with anyone who thinks Mein Kampf is a terrific blueprint for society. But I wouldn't either force anyone to read it, or make reading it illegal.

There are banned books that I studied at university (Lady Chatterley's Lover) or had read to me as child (Alice In Wonderland) or read now to my granddaughter (Green Eggs and Ham).

In fact, there's an international website dedicated to the reading of banned books (bannedbooksweek.org) with this year's "celebration of the freedom to read" starting on September 27. I guess we could spin this and be proud that a NZ book can take centre stage. 

Anything to get the kids – especially young boys – reading.

 - Stuff

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