Some of you by now have read about the Scrotum Controversy, which I think is the title of the latest Ludlum novel. Even the Times has covered it, and since that's the paper of record you know it must be important. If you haven't heard, some Newberry Award winning children's book has the word "scrotum" in it and some children's librarians have refused to order it for their libraries under the strange impression that the word isn't appropriate for children's literature. My contention is that any word appropriate for polite conversation is appropriate for children's literature, which leaves the burden of proof up to you. Would you start talking about scrotums to your work colleagues? If so, I'm glad you don't work with me.
(For some reason, this whole discussion makes me want to read La Comedie Humaine or pay special attention to the cinematography in The Fabulous Baker Boys.)
The author of this little gem is a librarian, and she has responded to the clamor: "I was shocked and horrified to read that some school librarians, teachers, and media specialists are choosing not to include the 2007 Newbery Medal winner in their collections." Shocked and horrified? My word, we are easily shocked and horrified, aren't we. I guess I'm not that easily shocked. But then again, I don't get any royalties if a library buys this book.
But her pseudo-outrage goes further: "If I were a parent of a middle-grade child, I would want to make decisions about my child's reading myself—I'd be appalled that my school librarian had decided to take on the role of censor and deny my child access to a major award-winning book." So we can tell from this that she is not a parent of a middle grade child, which might be important to note. But what I most note is that she's "appalled." Now she's shocked, horrified, and appalled. How unpleasant it must be to be her.
And of course she's taking an idiotic line right out of the idiotic ALA playbook and crying censorship. So some librarian doesn't purchase this book and it's censorship? Has the word censorship become so debased in our society that we're supposed to take this seriously? Or is it only ALA-inspired librarians who seem to have such a poor grasp on the term?
Who's being denied access to this book? The book's published and publicly available. You can buy the stupid thing on Amazon. How is this censorship? What sort of bonehead thinks that a librarian has the power to "deny a child" access to this book if the parent wants their child to read about scrotums? As with the "banned books" nonsense emanating from the ALA, we've entered into some parallel universe where the library is the only place where books are available and where a librarian not buying a book is somehow the same as government suppression of information.
I'll put this in simple sentences. Libraries don't buy everything. They can't afford to. They don't want to. Librarians make choices. These choices are not censorship. These choices are called selection. Perhaps you've heard of it.
My favorite quote from the author is in the Times story, where she says of the allegedly offending word that "the word is just so delicious." She was probably licking her lips at the time and thinking of a bag of Rocky Mountain Oysters.
I haven't read the book and never will, but I was struck by the second paragraph (quoted in the SHUSH post):
"Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked ‘62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum."
This is the allegedly offensive term in context, and what a context it is. If I were going to not get this book for a child, it wouldn't be because of the one word, it would be because based just on this paragraph it sounds like a trashy book. If I were the parent of a middle grade child (two can play this game!), I wouldn't want my child reading about some trashy people in some tiny, trashy town getting drunk and falling out of their cars. I don't read stories about trashy people as an adult, so why would I want that for a child?
Of course I haven't read the book, and it might not be about trashy people getting drunk and falling out of their cars. That might be an exception.
I am as puzzled as anyone by this jumped up controversy. I'm not a children's librarian, obviously, and I don't read children's books. I'm a grown up, so I read great big grown up books. If someone wants their child to read about people getting drunk and biting their dogs on the scrotum, fine. Then perhaps they and their children can sit around and smoke dope and bemoan all the puritans in the world. I couldn't care less.
What puzzles me isn't the dubious literary taste of some librarians or parents, but that people claim to be shocked that librarians aren't buying the book. Obviously, lots of children's librarians, and probably a lot of parents, think this is an offensive book, so they're not buying it. And then comes the pseudo-outrage. How dare they exercise some judgment! How dare they not buy a book that has some stupid award! How dare they be so intolerant! We can't tolerate that! They're censors! This is a matter of intellectual freedom! It's a child's God-given right to read about scrotum-biting drunks!
Is anyone willing to die on the barricades of intellectual freedom for this book? If some poor child doesn't get to read this book, will the republic crumble? Don't these people have anything better to do?