Non-Censorship and Skeevy Novels

A quick and disjointed post for advice and of confusion. You can tell I’m sorting things out in my head because I resort to numbered lists.

  1. I am in possession of a book that I believe would be harmful to my students — namely, in that it is rape apology and that it perpetuates rape culture. We have enough of that going on already.
  2. I am also in possession of a life philosophy that doesn’t condone censorship.
  3. I am in the habit of transferring my already read (and second-hand purchased) young adult (and some adult) novels to my classroom shelf of free books.


I suppose I could make an exception to this policy, but I don’t like to set a precedent of keeping my students from books. I suspect that many of them don’t read as much as I’d like and that a major reason for this is the lack of accessible relevant reading material. That’s a problem, and I want to be part of the solution.

That said, rape culture is also a problem, and I want to be part of that solution. Placing this book on my classroom shelf — which is a small shelf, and where so-placed books are assumed to have my implicit endorsement, despite my disclaimers otherwise — without any kind of advisory might well perpetuate rape culture, which is already too entrenched in and unquestioned by society. Nor am I necessarily in a position to discuss the novel with whoever might happen to pick it up.

And in a broader sense, I’m not sure how much my decision matters. Students will have some access to interesting reading material regardless of what I decide about this novel. Similarly, though perhaps more pessimistically, students will be inundated with rape apology regardless of what I decide about this novel.

Still and all, I can’t just place it on my shelf. But I can’t not place it.

My thoughts about my choices:

  1. Put it on my shelf, regardless of my reservations. It’s more important that students have free access to a range of reading material.
  2. Put it on my shelf with a written disclaimer (maybe in the form of a bookmark) stating my concerns about the novel and advising that students who read it consider talking the book over with a trusted adult. This of course assumes: a) the student has a trusted adult; b) the adult of choice recognizes and speaks against rape apology.
  3. Donate the book to my school library, speaking to my librarian about my concerns. Allow the librarian to make the final call with what happens to the book.
  4. Don’t bring the book to school at all.

Unless there are choices I’ve overlooked (which is likely true), I think the middle options are the only two acceptable compromises for me. In a perfect world, I’d prefer option number two, as that might afford a better opportunity to interact with the eventual next reader of said book. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and option three affords me a greater degree of professional protection — in a world where “professional protection” is semi-synonymous with distance.

It would be the best option for me, certainly. But it’s a different matter entirely on whether it would be the best option for my students.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in ahimsa, books, non-asana
15 comments on “Non-Censorship and Skeevy Novels
  1. Rae says:

    Do you ever mark up your books? I generally don’t, but I’ve read plenty of secondhand paperbacks with penciled commentary in the margins. If you decided to go the shelf-and-disclaimer route, I’d consider underlining and calling out some of the more problematic passages

    • Tori says:

      I generally don’t mark up my books, not the ones I use for leisure reading. (If I’m using the book for a class — as a student or teacher — that’s a different story.) If I do end up going with option #3, I think you’re right in that underlining and annotating specific examples is a good idea.

    • Tori says:

      And by option #3, I clearly meant option #2. 🙂

  2. Do you keep track of the books at all? Say, if a student should take it, would it be uncomfortable for you to have a short chat with hir about it?

    If that isn’t possible, I would probably opt for the note (perhaps offering yourself as a trusted adult) – but if not, then donate it to the library. It’s not on your shelf, being endorsed by you, but it’s also not censoring – it’s making the book available to people who need a range of reading material while maintaining your collection as a safer space (in terms of reading material) than a more indiscriminate library.

    But advice aside, I think your gut knows what to do. Trust it!

    • Tori says:

      Keeping track of the books is fairly hit or miss. I’d say that at the time of pick up, I know who’s reading what about 75% of the time. That number grows if students talk to me about their books, which sometimes happens and sometimes don’t. Though the odds still favor me knowing if a student’s reading the book in question, there’s enough of a gap — and with a novel that I see as sufficiently problematic — to make me uncomfortable with those odds.

      In terms of going with my gut, I think I’m most likely to end up giving it to our school librarian. She’s good at her job, and ultimately, this dilemma — deciding which material to make available to adolescents and in what context — is a central part of her job description, whereas it’s a more tangential part of mine.

  3. Quercki says:

    I just got back from the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. Not every book gets published. Not every book DESERVES to get published. Some books that get published don’t deserve to be published. Many worthy books don’t get published–particularly those by women and people of color (overlapping groups).

    Also, there is limited reading time. As a teacher, you can select the best and let your students find the rest. You don’t let them play video games instead of school-work or perpetuate rape culture in class, do you?

    (I’m pointing out that you aren’t censoring the book–it still got published. You just don’t have to enable or promote it. Please consider option 4. Or annotate HEAVILY–it’s ok to write in a book if you own it–but is it worth your time?)

    • Tori says:

      You don’t let them play video games instead of school-work or perpetuate rape culture in class, do you?

      I don’t perpetuate rape culture or let them play games instead of work on school work during class, no. However, neither do I make many claims on how they prioritize their time outside of class (aside from the requirement that they must complete all their school work).

      I’m not talking about a shelf of books that’s available for them to read in class. I’m talking about a shelf of books labeled “free books,” where the books are available for any students who might want them whenever.

      Ultimately, despite how strongly I feel about this novel, it still feels wrong for me — in part because of my past actions and current beliefs about students and reading — to not place the book at all. I’ve considered option #4 at length, but it does feel a lot like censorship to me, like I’m substituting my judgment for what my students should be reading for their judgments of the same. I know that when I was their age, I was more than capable of choosing my own reading material, including some pieces that were equally disturbing.

      Regardless of content, I would not have appreciated adults attempts at trying to keep books from me. My current students deserve that same level of trust in their choices.

      • Regardless of content, I would not have appreciated adults attempts at trying to keep books from me. My current students deserve that same level of trust in their choices.

        I don’t think I would have either. But I don’t see it the way you do. (Which is not to say that one way of seeing it is right and one is wrong…) The way I see it, you are implicitly endorsing the books you put on that shelf. By not putting the book on the shelf, you are not censoring it any more than any other book that does not appear on your shelf. (This way of looking at it emphasizes effect more than intent.) Providing books to someone seems sort of analogous to linking to a blog or putting it on your blogroll–I don’t feel guilty about not linking to every blog that I come across. I don’t see Not Promoting Something as being the same as Censoring Something. You are not attempting to prevent them from finding the book themselves. It sounds like you went with option #3, which is probably a good way to go, but I wouldn’t have had any qualms about any option except #1.

        (I missed this one when you first posted it. You’re very prolific! I have trouble keeping up!)

  4. Luann says:

    Honestly, I’d give it to the library. Chances are if your students are reading, they’ll make their way there regardless of what kind of books are on the shelves, and libraries are pretty much open to putting everything out there. I know this seems like censorship, but really–it’s availabe and free if they have a library card. If the shelf of free books in your classroom has your tacit approval of the material, then it really boils down to either putting it out there with a note–which I’m 90% certain will be ignored–marking it up, or leaving it blank. If it bothers you to such an extent, I’d just give it to the library.

    As far as it depriving the students of a book to read–well, library again. Do any of your local libraries have book sales or a surplus book shelf? I ask because my largest local branch has a good many books for ten cents a piece, and I’ve found things that range from Shakespeare to the Lord of the Rings to the Bhagavad Gita. I don’t know that the libraries in your area are able to do the same thing, but even if they don’t, the librarians might be able to steer you to a source of cheap books, or even organizations that would donate them for free.

    (Can you tell I used to work for a library?)

    • Tori says:

      … but really–it’s availabe and free if they have a library card.

      You’d give it to the school library or the local public library? Because of access issues (time, transportation, etc.), giving it to my public library would, on a practical level, mean a large number of my students didn’t have access to it.

      … putting it out there with a note–which I’m 90% certain will be ignored…

      Ah, I see you don’t know my students! 😉 I’m actually more than 90% certain that if I wrote and signed a note in the book, it would not be ignored. They might not choose to speak to me personally about the book, but I am quite sure they would at least consider the suggestion and read the book with that in mind.

      • Luann says:

        I’d probably give it to the school library, if time and transportation are big issues in regards to book availability. I don’t know what book it is, so I couldn’t say if it’s something they’d easily find in a public library/school library or not, and if you think it’s important for them to read it, closer is certainly better.

        I’m glad to hear they listen to you to that extent! That’s great! You must be doing a great job to have students that will listen to you and trust you. If that’s the case I’d definitely go with the note, if that makes you more comfortable.

        Hope everything works out!

  5. This is unrelated but you don’t have open threads! I just found out about anti-gravity yoga – have you ever tried it? SO want to learn to do the vampire!

    • Tori says:

      No worries. (I assumed I didn’t have the readership for open threads.)

      I haven’t tried anti-gravity yoga, but I’ve read about it and seen videos.

      i am definitely a fan of changing the body’s relationship to gravity in general (and in the context of folks familiar with traditional presentations of poses), so it’s definitely interesting to me.

  6. BunnyMaz says:

    Spoke with the mister about it, since he’s better with kids than I am, and here was his suggestion;

    Use the book, if you have the freedom to in your lessons. Tell the kids that you read this book, and tell them about the dilemma you found yourself facing. Engage them in discussion about it, and ask them to discuss with each other or with you, how they would deal with the situation. Then, put the book on the shelf with a short note simply reminding them that the book was the one you talked to them about.

    Your concerns will be not only foremost in their minds if/when they pick the book up, but with any luck they will already have thought about the issues at hand before they read it.

    • Tori says:

      In a state where a teachers union was able to offer any kind of meaningful protection, I might. However, given that I live in a place where the government is openly hostile to teachers (and education in general), I might ensure more future teachable moments if I go the Cover My Ass route on this one.

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