In the spirit of Banned Books Week, I thought I’d contribute some thoughts on the matter. Sadly, I won’t have time to read a book from the banned books list because I will be too busy working on my own novel. And while I was going back through the first couple of chapters, making edits, I started to recognize content in my novel that has been the cause of criticism for other novels: adult language, sexual content, etc. This made me wonder, could my book (assuming it is ever traditionally published) end up on the infamous banned books list?
The novel in question is an Arthurian parody centered on the city’s gong farmer. For those who do not know what that is, look it up on Wikipedia and you’ll know why I’m concerned. As far as language, there is some adult language, albeit not much, and it is used by characters in appropriate context. Otherwise, there is little sexual content (the characters are either too old or too young) and the rest of the content is relatively clean . . . except for one scene in which three of the characters stumble upon a brothel in the middle of the woods. There are several sexual references but none of my characters actually f**k said wenches (cough cough George R. R. Martin).
So do I edit this content out? Leave it in? Do I want my book to find its way on the banned books list? Are there benefits to that?
Some of the books listed on the banned books list are some of the best-selling most popular books of our time. The Bluest Eye, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, all well-known novels by highly respected authors. Heck, there is an entire week devoted to supporting these books. From a marketing stand-point, it might not be such a bad idea to push the envelop.
On the other hand, risqué content can limit readership. Too much strong language or sexual content can turn a reader off. That is why it is important for an author to know the audience he or she is writing for. Obviously, the author of a children’s book would want to avoid adult themes and someone writing Christian literature would not want to fill their novel with adult language and sexual content.
I know I am writing for an adult audience, so I take that into consideration when evaluating content. I think my readers are mature enough to handle material if handled properly. I know my novel is not just a collection of toilet humor. It’s a comedy designed to make a serious statement about class roles and change. I don’t put any material in my book unless it needs to be there. It isn’t put there for shock value or just to be comical; it’s there for a purpose to support the theme of the novel and/or to reveal something about a character. So, I’m not planning on cutting it out.
Still, as I make my final edits, I have to wonder . . . will my book find its way to the banned books list? What about yours?